Russia is delaying the launch of an international investigation aimed at assigning blame for chemical weapon attacks in Syria, UN Security Council diplomats said on Wednesday, according to a report by the Reuters news agency.
In a letter to the 15-nation council last week, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined his plans for an investigation into toxic gas attacks in Syria, to be conducted by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The council was supposed to respond to Ban's letter within five days. The deadline lapsed on Tuesday and no response has been sent, according to Reuters.
Several council diplomats said Russia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, was hesitating. Asked about it at a news conference, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin played down concerns about a delay.
"The most important thing is to make sure we know what is going to happen and the mechanism will work as effectively as it can," he said.
Churkin said he had sought written clarifications from the United Nations on precisely how the investigation would proceed.
He described three areas of concern that needed written clarification, but only named one, involving voluntary contributions for financing of the investigation.
Western diplomats said the Russians had also raised the issue of Iraq and the possibility of expanding the UN-OPCW investigation's work to include Iraqi territory, where there have been allegations of Islamic State jihadists using poison gas.
Churkin said this was an issue Russia was exploring with the Iraqi government.
There were several reports of chlorine gas attacks in Syria in the past year, and the OPCW later released a report in which it concluded "with a high degree of confidence" that chlorine gas had been used in attacks on three villages in Syria last year.
The United States, Britain and France have repeatedly accused President Bashar Al-Assad's forces of carrying out chlorine gas attacks with barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Assad he would be held to account for using chlorine gas against civilians.
The three countries argue that only the Syrian regime has helicopters. But Russia maintains there is no solid proof that Damascus is behind the attacks.
Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari recently said his country's army "has never used and will never use chemical weapons."
He said extremist groups linked to Al-Qaeda have done so, and he questioned the neutrality of previous on-the-ground probes by the UN and the OPCW.