United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power accused Russia Thursday of holding the Security Council "hostage" by blocking efforts to condemn the Syrian government for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
In her first public remarks on the Syrian conflict, Power told reporters at the U.N. that Russia's refusal means there is "no available path forward at the Security Council" when it comes to taking action against Syria, The New York Times reported
Power said the United States was briefing other U.N. member states about an intelligence assessment of an Aug. 21 attack that took place in the Damascus suburbs. She said the assessment showed that banned chemical weapons had been used by forces of President Bashar Assad and that more than 1,400 civilians were killed, including more than 400 children.
Both Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin dispute that claim, however, saying it would make no sense for the regime to use chemical weapons on its own citizens. They also point to a separate U.N. inquiry into the alleged attack now underway and note that it has yet to be completed.
In addition, the Assad regime asserted that if chemical weapons were used against civilians, the attacks were carried out by opponents to help turn public opinion against the government.
Power's strong condemnation of Russia came as Putin and President Barack Obama were both engaged in the G-20 economic summit being held this year in St. Petersburg, Russia. World leaders there appeared to be divided over whether punitive strikes should be carried out against the Assad regime, according to the BBC News
and other media reports.
Following a working dinner Thursday night among the leaders attending the summit, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta tweeted that "the G20 has just now finished the dinner session, at which the divisions about Syria were confirmed."
Speaking to reporters after the dinner, Putin's press spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged the differences of opinion on Syria, but denied that Russia is trying to block a Security Council vote.
"The Russian side is not blocking the deliberations of other countries within the framework of the United Nations Security Council," he said. "It is trying to encourage its partners, including its partners in Washington, to objectively consider the situation and not to make decisions before the verdict of the U.N. experts who are working in Syria."
British sources also reported Thursday that the leaders of France, Turkey, Canada, and the United Kingdom had offered strong backing at the summit for Obama's call for military action. Turkey reportedly presented a "very strong argument about how the world must respond to the use of chemical weapons."
In her comments to reporters, Power was also critical of U.N. organization, which she said had failed to stop or even punish the Syrian government for its "atrocities" during the course of the 3-year-old civil war.
"The system devised in 1945 precisely to deal with threats of this nature did not work as it was supposed to," she said.
But her strongest comments were directed at Russia, which she accused of misusing its veto power on the Security Council to "protect the prerogatives of Russia," while holding the Council and its votes "hostage."
"The Security Council the world needs to deal with this crisis is not the Security Council we have," Power said, adding that Putin's comments about the situation in Syria show there is no "available path forward" for the Security Council to help resolve the crisis.
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