Aug 23 2013
William Hague has warned "time is of the essence" as he holds emergency talks with key international figures over the Syrian chemical attack that is claimed to have left 1,300 dead.
The Foreign Secretary is meeting United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Qatar's foreign minister. They are pressing Bashar Assad's regime to allow UN weapons inspectors already in the region to inspect the site of the deadly attack on the outskirts of Damascus.
Mr Hague wrote on Twitter: "Urgent discussions today with UN Secretary General, Secretary Kerry and FM of Qatar on #Syria chemical attacks. We are pressing for immediate access for the UN team and consulting allies on response to this terrible atrocity. Time is of the essence. Every day without UN access is a day in which evidence can deteriorate or be hidden by those responsible."
US president Barack Obama said officials were gathering information about the attack which is said to have involved rockets loaded with toxic agents, telling CNN: "What we've seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern. It is very troublesome."
The United States has called on the Syrian government to allow a UN investigation of the site of the attack but fears that is unlikely.
"We don't expect co-operation (from the Syrian government), given their past history," the president said.
Asked whether the US government is facing a "more abbreviated time-frame" on key decisions in Egypt and Syria, the president replied "yes". He said: "We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long-term national interests."
Russia, which has vetoed past attempts to secure a tough UN resolution and suggested the attack could be "premeditated provocation" by opposition forces, has called for UN experts to be allowed to inspect the attack site. Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Mr Kerry agreed they had a "mutual interest" in calling for the UN investigation during a telephone conversation, a statement released by the Russian interior ministry said.
Britain formally wrote to Mr Ban on Thursday with 36 other countries, calling for the UN team to be given access to the site. A team of UN weapons inspectors is in Syria but only has permission to visit specific locations. The regime has dismissed as "baseless" claims it was behind the latest incident.
Unverified footage of casualties, including children, in makeshift hospitals suffering convulsions and breathing difficulties has circulated on YouTube. Accounts of the death toll vary wildly from around 100 to the claim by the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group in exile, that 1,300 were killed. The group said it was basing its claim on accounts and photographs by activists on the ground.