MOSCOW, April 20. /TASS/. Washington should present evidence to prove its accusations against Moscow and Damascus of preventing experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) from gaining access to the alleged chemical weapons attack site in the Syrian town of Douma, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a press conference on Friday.
"As for yesterday’s statement, which said that the US has evidence to prove that Russia and Syria were delaying OPCW experts from gaining access to the town of Douma - if they really have it, let them present it," Lavrov said. "We have more than once presented the evidence that we have, including pictures and people’s interviews. As for our counterparts, we have only heard allegations about evidence, be it the alleged Douma incident or the Salisbury incident," the Russian top diplomat added.
Lavrov pointed out that a similar situation took place following the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Khan Shaykhun, when the US and Great Britain cited classified information declining to clarify how they had acquired samples of the chemical substance allegedly used in the attack. "So put the facts on the table and then we will be able to hold some kind of a professional conversation," Lavorv said, adding that "if only groundless allegations remain, then they will eventually make it into a compilation dubbed Highly Likely, and that will be the end of it," the Russian foreign minister noted.
He went on to say that everyone could see clearly who actually was preventing OPCW experts from going to Douma. "The Americans requested we assist their experts in visiting the town of Douma and we agreed. While talking to our French colleagues, we asked them to send their representatives and they said it was a good idea. However, neither Washington nor Paris took any further steps. They carried out missile strikes instead of sending a joint OPCW mission to Syria to find out what had or had not happened there," Lavrov said.
US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said at a briefing on Thursday that Washington had "credible information that indicates that Russian officials are working with the Syrian regime to deny and delay these inspectors from gaining access to Douma." We believe it is an effort to conduct their own staged investigations. Russian officials have worked with the Syrian regime, we believe, to sanitize the locations of those suspected attacks and remove incriminating evidence of chemical weapons use," Nauert added.
A number of non-government organizations, including the White Helmets, allege that a chemical weapons attack took place in Eastern Ghouta’s town of Douma on April 7.
The Russian Foreign Ministry slammed these statements as a bogus story, while Russia’s Defense Ministry pointed out that the White Helmets were not a reliable source of information as they were known for spreading fabricated news. On April 9, officers from the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the opposing sides in Syria visited Douma but did not find any traces of chemical weapons.
However, on April 14, US warplanes and naval ships in cooperation with the United Kingdom and France carried out a missile attack on Syria’s military and civilian infrastructure facilities. The Syrian air defenses managed to shoot down 71 out of 103 missiles fired by the United States and its allies.
Washington, London and Paris claimed the strikes to be a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack.
OPCW experts are expected to visit Douma, assess the situation on the ground and collect information about the alleged chemical weapons attack.