It's so absurd it's hard to believe, but when it comes to US policy absurdity has been par for the course over the past years. At an international meeting hosted by France on global chemical weapons proliferation Secretary of State Rex Tillerson blamed both Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and Russia for carrying out a purported new chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of East Ghouta. Speaking from Paris on Tuesday, Tillerson said, "Whoever conducted the attacks Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in eastern Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria."
That's right - in the same sentence Tillerson leveled the accusation against Russia, while simultaneously pointing the finger at Assad, he admitted that he really doesn't know much at all about "whoever conducted the attacks".
The incident, a reported chlorine gas attack delivered via rockets, is said to have happened Monday in the same suburb of Syria's capital that a much larger August 2013 attack took place, which the United States blamed on Assad, which nearly precipitated direct US military intervention under the Obama administration, according to an investigative report by Seymour Hersh in the London Review of Books.
"Only yesterday more than 20 civilians, mostly children, were victims of an apparent chlorine gas attack," Tillerson said at the Paris conference involving 24 nations, which has eyed chemical weapons usage in Syria in particular. He added that the attacks "raise serious concerns that Bashar al-Assad may be continuing to use chemical weapons against his own people."
And this is where the US Secretary of State asserted, "Whoever conducted the attacks Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in eastern Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria."
The sole sources for the reports include two well-known opposition groups, namely the White Helmets and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) - both of which have long been on record as seeking regime change in Syria and have been go-to sources for American and UK media in particular. SOHR is led by one man, an activist named Rami Abdulrahman, who lives in Coventry, England, while the White Helmets is on record as being funded by US and UK governments to the tune of many tens of millions of dollars, and has further been caught cooperating closely with al-Qaeda factions on the ground in Syria. Indeed the group only operates in areas controlled by al-Qaeda (HTS) and other anti-government insurgents.
On Monday the White Helmets posted two videos to its Twitter account, purporting to show the aftermath of the attack. The first video included men and children, some lying on hospital beds, in a makeshift clinic receiving treatment. The White Helmets statement claimed, "More than 20 of suffocation so far following the bombing of the Assad regime forces with missiles carrying poisonous gases (probably chlorine)." The second video merely shows a White Helmets rescue worker carrying an infant in the back of an ambulance with no chemical protective gear on.
It appears that Tillerson is pointing the finger at Assad and Russia based solely on the White Helmets videos and accusations, despite the fact that no international observer or investigative body has confirmed that the incident even took place. Tillerson further used the alleged incident to blame Russia for breaking prior commitments made regarding the 2013-2014 US-Russia brokered deal to dismantle Syria's extensive nerve agent program, which was widely reported to have been successfully carried out and completed in 2014.
Secretary Tillerson: This meeting was about two things: stopping chemical weapons attacks and denying impunity to those who use or enable the use of such weapons. For an indication of what these weapons can do to humans, one need look no further than East Ghouta in #Syria. pic.twitter.com/fOS5W49EJL— Department of State (@StateDept) January 23, 2018
"There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the United States as a framework guarantor," Tillerson said of the prior 2013 agreement, and added, “Russia’s failure to resolve the chemical weapons issue in Syria calls into question its relevance to the resolution of the overall crisis. At a bare minimum, Russia must stop vetoing and at least abstain on future UNSC resolutions on this issue."
Meanwhile, earlier on Tuesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov heavily criticized the Paris conference, which has as its mission the creation of an ‘International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons’, accusing attendees of seeking to create a new "quasi-collective" organ instead of using already existing international institutions. The Russian Deputy FM said in a statement carried by RT that, “The quasi-collective approach, or, in fact, gathering up the states who cannot go against Euro-grands and the US is a direct violation of the prerogatives of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a blow to the UN platform,” Ryabkov said.
"We believe that the result of such sort of 'exercises' will be only further partition of the international community,” he warned. “Authors of such ideas and initiatives should really consider the consequences."
Russia has long accused the US of blindly trusting opposition sources inside Syria concerning claims of chemical weapons attacks, including an April 2017 incident in al-Qaeda controlled (HTS) Idlib, which resulted in the US attacking an airbase in central Syria.
Last October, the US State Department admitted that anti-Assad militant groups operating in Syria, especially in Idlib, possess and have used chemical weapons throughout the war - something which the US government said was impossible, as it consistently held the position that only the Assad government could be to blame.