After initially insisting that Syria give United Nations investigators
unimpeded access to the site of an alleged nerve gas attack, the
administration of President Barack Obama reversed its position on Sunday
and tried unsuccessfully to get the U.N. to call off its investigation.
The administration’s reversal, which came within hours of the deal reached between Syria and the U.N., was reported by the Wall Street Journal Monday and effectively confirmed by a State Department spokesperson later that day.
In his press appearance Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry, who
intervened with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to call off the
investigation, dismissed the U.N. investigation as coming too late to
obtain valid evidence on the attack that Syrian opposition sources
claimed killed as many 1,300 people.
The sudden reversal and overt hostility toward the U.N.
investigation, which coincides with indications that the administration
is planning a major military strike against Syria in the coming days,
suggests that the administration sees the U.N. as hindering its plans
for an attack.
Kerry asserted Monday that he had warned Syrian Foreign Minister
Moallem last Thursday that Syria had to give the U.N. team immediate
access to the site and stop the shelling there, which he said was
“systematically destroying evidence”. He called the Syria-U.N. deal to
allow investigators unrestricted access “too late to be credible”.
After the deal was announced on Sunday, however, Kerry pushed Ban in a phone call to call off the investigation completely.
The Wall Street Journal reported the pressure on Ban without
mentioning Kerry by name. It said unnamed “U.S. officials” had told the
secretary-general that it was “no longer safe for the inspectors to
remain in Syria and that their mission was pointless.”
But Ban, who has generally been regarded as a pliable instrument of
U.S. policy, refused to withdraw the U.N. team and instead “stood firm
on principle”, the Journal reported. He was said to have ordered the U.N. inspectors to “continue their work”.
The Journal said “U.S. officials” also told the
secretary-general that the United States “didn’t think the inspectors
would be able to collect viable evidence due to the passage of time and
damage from subsequent shelling.”