File Photo: A United Nations chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria, Aug. 29, 2013. (Xinhua/REUTERS)
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a joint statement with his British, French and German counterparts on Wednesday that "robust international response" and actions are needed so that "those responsible for the use of chemical weapons" in Syria "will be held accountable."
FOUR NATIONS: ROBUST INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE, ACTIONS
In a statement with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, Tillerson said the four countries "have full trust" in the findings of a report released on Oct. 26 by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM).
The report concluded that the Syrian government is responsible for the use of sarin in Khan Shaykhun on April 4 of 2017, and that the Islamic State was responsible for a sulfur mustard attack on the town of Um Housh in September 2016 on two consecutive days.
"We have full trust in the JIM's findings, its professionalism and independence," said Tillerson. Adding Syria "violated international law, including the Chemical Weapons Convention."
"We condemn this heinous act and demand that the Syrian regime immediately cease any and all use of chemical weapons and finally declare to the OPCW all chemical weapons that it possesses," said the U.S. top diplomat. "We condemn the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere."
The four nations said that "it is vital for the international community to continue to investigate cases where chemical weapons have been used in Syria" and urged the UN Security Council to "maintain the JIM's investigative capacity."
"We also call on the OPCW Executive Council to take action in response to the JIM report to send an unequivocal signal that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons will be held accountable," he added.
"A robust international response is now essential to hold those responsible to account, seek justice for the victims of these abhorrent attacks and to prevent such attacks from happening again," said the four foreign ministers. "After such a report, the Security Council and all its members have a common responsibility to protect the international non-proliferation regime and live up to their previous commitments."
RUSSIA: INVESTIGATION "UNPROFESSIONAL"
Last week, Russia blocked a UN Security Council draft resolution on the extension of the JIM mandate, citing the need to examine its latest report which the Foreign Ministry called "superficial and unprofessional."
Moscow also said on Nov. 2 that it will agree to continue a UN investigation into use of chemical weapons in Syria if the quality of the group's work drastically improves.
"We are for the extension because the very fact of using chemical substances as a weapon is a totally unacceptable phenomenon for us, and I hope, for our many partners in the UN Security Council," said Mikhail Ulyanov, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Nonproliferation and Arms Control Department.
But the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) created to investigate chemical attacks in Syria "should really start working, not as it is doing now," he said at a press conference.
Ulyanov and experts from Russia's Defense Ministry and Industry and Trade Ministry provided at the press conference technical proof that the Syrian government was innocent of perpetrating the chemical attack, contrary to the report's allegation.
They said that members of the JIM based their conclusions on secondary and unconvincing evidence, without personally visiting the location of the incident.
Ulyanov said that Russia later on Thursday would present its own draft resolution at the UN Security Council on the extension of the JIM mandate with recommendations for the UN General Secretary and the OPCW head.
A chemical attack was reportedly launched on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria on April 4 and killed dozens of people. The Syrian government has repeatedly dismissed Western accusations of its responsibility.
The Khan Sheikhoun attack prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to launch missile strikes on Syria's air base in Shayrat, which Western governments say was used to launch the gas attack.