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UN remains deeply divided as Obama poised for Syria attack

By Colin Francis

The United Nations has asked the head of its chemical weapons testing team to expedite the analysis of tests from samples collected from Syria as the US edges closer to sanctioning military action against the Assad regime.

Time is of the essence after President Barack Obama announced that he would seek congressional authorisation for a military strike on Syria, which it accuses of killing 1,429 of its own people, including more than 400 children, in the chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus.

Congress is scheduled to return from a summer break on September 9.

The US has said it has done its own testing of samples of hair and blood provided to Washington by first responders in Syria.

US diplomat Dr Richard Haass, who is due in Northern Ireland to chair all-party talks on flags and parading issues in around a fortnight, has also weighed into the debate on America taking action in Syria.

Dr Haass was critical of President Obama's action since the chemical attack in Damascus and favours military action.

He said on Twitter yesterday: "Pres Obama has gone from "leading from behind" to not leading. going to Congress re #Syria raises doubts about US reliability, determination".

Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that the US now has evidence of sarin gas use, making the case for a strike against the Assad government "stronger by the day".

The UN maintains that its team, which follows standards recognised by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, is uniquely capable of testing samples in an impartial manner, and that any attack on Syria should come with broad international support.

However, the UN Security Council remains deeply divided on the issue, and any vote on a strike against Syria would all but certainly be vetoed by its ally Russia – essentially paralysing the UN's most powerful body.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke with the head of the UN chemical weapons inspection team, Ake Sellstrom, earlier yesterday and asked him to accelerate the testing process, "and to report the results to him as soon as possible".

The inspectors left Syria and flew out of Lebanon to the Netherlands early yesterday after carrying out four days of inspections.

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