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UN seeks top role in Syria crisis, but its record is sketchy

The United Nations’ renewed efforts to play a lead role in settling the Syria crisis have only renewed questions about the world body’s shortcomings keeping a check on the Assad regime so far. 

The U.N. and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – an independent organization that works with it – led the operation to remove and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in 2013 under an agreement between the Obama administration and Russia.

Then-President Barack Obama chose the U.N.-led option after Bashar Assad used chemical weapons near Damascus in 2013. In his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama hailed the process as a diplomatic victory, proclaiming “Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.”

The declaration was premature. Following a chemical weapons attack in Idlib province earlier this month, which the U.S. believes was carried out by the Assad regime, the Trump administration responded by launching strikes on an Assad-controlled airfield. 

But despite the apparent failure to oversee a complete weapons purge, Russia once again wants the U.N.-OPCW to take the lead. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week called on the groups to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Idlib and the site of the U.S. strikes.

“We think that it is absolutely necessary to conduct a thorough, objective, professional, and unbiased investigation,” Lavrov said. “We will insist that the OPCW and the U.N. in New York urgently send inspectors both to the site of the incident and the airfield itself, where, according to Western experts, the munitions were loaded with chemicals.”

Reuters reported that the OPCW already has dispatched investigators to Turkey to collect samples. The mission reportedly will determine if chemical weapons were used, but will not assign blame. The results are expected in May and will be be passed to a U.N.-OPCW investigation. An OPCW spokesman declined to comment on ongoing investigations to Fox News.

U.N. special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura also says a U.N.-led negotiation process is “the only way out of the Syrian nightmare.” Addressing the Security Council last week, he said Russia and the United States “must find a way to work together” to stabilize the situation, and the U.N. is ready to lead.

But some have expressed skepticism about the U.N.’s ability to act on that front as well, at least without a shift from Russia. 

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