U.N. Pushes Back at U.S. Calls to Abort Syria Inspection Mission
BEIRUT—United Nations weapons inspectors arrived at one of the sites of last week's presumed chemical weapons attacks outside Damascus, spurning U.S. calls for the team to stop their mission as American officials said they are inching closer to a decision for a military strike.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rebuffed the U.S. request to withdraw the inspectors and "stood firm on principle," according to a person familiar with the matter, ordering his team to continue their work establishing whether chemical weapons or toxins were responsible for the estimated hundreds of deaths of Syrian civilians.
Earlier Monday, the U.N. chemical weapons team came under fire from unidentified snipers as they examined the site of the suspected attack at Mouadhamiya, a few miles southwest of Damascus. The team retreated but returned later in the afternoon. Mr. Ban said the team visited two hospitals, interviewed survivors and doctors, and collect samples.
At the same time, U.S. officials were reaching a definitive conclusion that chemical weapons had been used by the Syrian government in military assaults last Wednesday. "Our confidence is growing that this was in fact an episode involving the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime," a senior U.S. official said, the strongest remarks to date on the use of the banned weapons.
Secretary of State John Kerry was due to deliver a statement on Syria's crisis at 2 p.m. Eastern Time, the State Department said.
Although President Barack Obama remains undecided on military action, the U.S. request for the U.N. team to withdraw echoed its moves before it attacked Iraq in 2003, when it asked a U.N. inspection team in Baghdad to withdraw for its own safety as it prepared for military operations.