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Tillerson reiterates support for OPCW's investigative mechanism in phone call with Lavrov

The U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had a phone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday to follow up on bilateral issues discussed during his April 11-12 visit to Moscow, Acting State Department's Spokesperson Mark Toner said in a statement.

"The Secretary and Foreign Minister discussed a range of other topics, including the OPCW investigation into Syria's use of chemical weapons on April 4. The Secretary reiterated his support for the OPCW's existing investigative mechanism," the statement said.

Earlier on Friday a State Department spokesperson told TASS that Washington sees no point in the formation of a new mechanism to investigate the alleged chemical attacks in Syria. According to the representative of the State Department, "the OPCW's Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), which is currently conducting the investigation, is already empowered to investigate chemical weapons (CW) attacks in Syria." "Once the FFM determines CW use, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) works to determine attribution," the spokesperson said, adding that both the FFM and the JIM are "independent and impartial mechanisms, and they have the full support of the United States."

Russia's Foreign Ministry said following the conversation that "during the discussion of international problems Lavrov expressed regret over the U.S. opposition to Russia's initiative in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to dispatch inspectors to Syria for verifying the reports on the use of Sarin nerve gas in the town of Khan Sheykhun on April 4 and the presence of poison chemicals on the Shayrat airbase."

"Lavrov and Tillerson agreed to issue instructions for pondering a possibility to organize an independent investigation of the incident under the aegis of the OPCW," the ministry said.

The sides also considered some items on the bilateral agenda, with Lavrov stressing the demand "to return the Russian diplomatic properties in the U.S., which the Obama Administration confiscated unlawfully."

"Lavrov and Tillerson also agreed on kick-starting the work of a joint expert group at the level of deputy foreign ministers to tap the ways of eliminating the irritants from bilateral relations," the report said.

The incident in Syria's Khan Shaykhun, where chemical weapons were allegedly used, occurred on April 4. Russia's Defense Ministry said on that day the Syrian aircraft struck workshops where terrorists were producing munitions with chemical agents. Washington accused Damascus of using the chemical weapons.

On April 7, the US military fired a total of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from its warships in the Mediterranean Sea on Syria's Al Shayrat air base located in the province of Homs. The US attack on the Syrian government forces reportedly came in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria's Idlib on April 4.

[Source: Itar Tass, Washington, 22Apr17]

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