UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Syria's U.N. ambassador invited top international disarmament and weapons inspectors to Damascus for talks with the country's Foreign Ministry on investigating chemical weapons, but insisted Monday on limiting inspections to just one regime accusation of an attack by the rebels.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari's government had previously asked for an investigation of the alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19 in the Aleppo suburb of Khan al-Assal, which it blamed on the rebels.
But Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has refused to allow a U.N. investigation team led by Swedish chemical weapons expert Ake Sellstrom in to conduct a broader investigation of other allegations raised by Britain, France and the United States.
When asked Monday if Syria was now considering allowing investigations of Western claims of other attacks, Ja'afari promptly answered, "No, you wouldn't jump to this conclusion."
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "remains seriously concerned about all allegations on the use of chemical weapons in Syria."
"What is most urgent at this time is that the Syrian government allows access to the U.N. investigation mission without further delay and without any conditions. In this regard, the stated intent of the Syrian government to invite Dr. Sellstrom and (U.N. disarmament chief) Ms. Angela Kane is a move in the right direction," Nesirky said.
"We need to analyze the elements in the announcement by the Syrian permanent representative today. In the meantime, let me repeat the importance of having comprehensive access to the sites of allegations," Nesirky said.
U.S. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said Monday that it was crucial that the U.N. team be allowed "to enter Syria and to investigate any and all credible allegations of possible use of chemical weapons."
The United States last month sent Ban a letter saying that Syria's government used the nerve agent sarin on two occasions in the embattled city of Aleppo in a March 19 attack on the suburb of Khan al-Assal and in an April 13 attack on the neighborhood of Shaykh Maqsud.
The letter from then-U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice also said unspecified chemicals, possibly including chemical warfare agents, were used May 14 in an attack on Qasr Abu Samrah and in a May 23 attack on Adra.
In March, Britain and France told the secretary-general they have reliable evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons near Aleppo, in Homs and possibly in Damascus.
The British and French ambassadors told Ban Ki-moon in a letter on March 25 that soil samples and interviews with witnesses and opposition figures backed their belief that the government used chemical shells that had caused injuries and deaths, diplomats and officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the letter has not been made public.
On March 23, Britain and France asked the U.N. chief to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in two locations in Khan al-Assal and the village of Ataybah in the vicinity of Damascus, all on March 19, as well as in Homs on Dec. 23.