Speaking to reporters at U.N. headquarters, Ban said that his top advisors are still trying to determine the scope of the mission, the composition of the team, and the steps required to guarantee their safety.
The announcement comes one day after Syria's foreign minister, Walid Moallem, asked the U.N. to undertake an "impartial, independent" investigation into its claim that on March 19 "terrorists used chemical weapons in their attack in Khan al-Assal in Aleppo province." France and Britain, citing opposition claims that the Syrian government used chemical agents in an attack in Damascus, said they would urge Ban to expand the mission beyond the Aleppo case.
Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, denounced the European initiative, which is backed by the United States and many other council members, as a delaying tactic and insisted that Ban limit its immediate investigation into the single case in Aleppo. "There is just one allegation of the use of chemical weapons," he said. "This is really a way to delay the need for immediate urgent investigation of allegations pertaining to March 19 by raising all sorts of issues."
Churkin made it clear that the 15-nation Security Council would not be in a position to agree on a plan for a wider probe into possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.
But Ban said that he has authority to act on his own. The secretary general hinted that his mandate would go beyond the specific Syrian request, saying that he hoped the mission "would contribute to ensuring the safety and security of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria. The investigation mission is to look into the specific incident brought to my attention by the Syrian government. I am, of course, aware that there are other allegations of similar cases involving the reported use of chemical weapons."
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Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.