"Given our ongoing consultations about the appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria on August 21, we have decided to postpone Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and the US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford's meeting with a Russian delegation that was scheduled for this week in the Hague," a senior State Department official said on Monday. JPN/Agencies
On condition of anonymity, the official said that the US will work with its Russian counterparts to reschedule the meeting aimed at discussing plans for an international peace conference to end the civil war in the Arab country.
"As we've long made clear – and as the events of August 21 reinforce – it is imperative that we reach a comprehensive and durable political solution to the crisis in Syria. The US remains fully invested in that process," the official said.
"We will continue working with Russia and other international partners to move towards a transition based on the framework laid out in the Geneva Communique," the State Department official said.
Such a decision by the Obama Administration was taken hours after Secretary of State John Kerry said that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people, a charge denied by Damascus.
Meanwhile, State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said the mandate of the UN investigation team was not to determine culpability into who would have used chemical weapons. "It is to determine whether they were used, which the whole entire world now agrees has happened," she said.
"We don't at this point have confidence that the UN can conduct a credible inquiry into what happened, and we are concerned that the Syrian regime will use this as a delay tactic to continue shelling and destroying evidence in the area," Harf said.
"And quite frankly we don't want the Syrian regime to be able to use it as a delaying tactic. As we saw this morning, it's not even entirely safe for them to be there operating on the ground. So we believe that it is too late for a credible investigation at this point," she said.
President Barack Obama, she said, has a range of options that he's currently looking at with his security team. "Clearly, some of those, include military contingencies. But he's looking at a range of options and has not yet made a decision on how to respond," she said.
Russia regrets decision
Meanwhile, Russia said it regretted a decision by the United States to shelve a meeting on the Syria crisis this week.
Regretting the US move, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov tweeted, “It arouses regret that our partners decided to cancel the bilateral meeting" involving senior diplomats from both sides.
He added such talks would have been particularly useful at a time "when military action is hanging over this country".
The scrapping of the planned meeting in The Hague is the latest sign of a new peak in tensions between Moscow and the West over the possibility of military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Western countries including the United States are considering their response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Assad's regime on August 21.
In a new diplomatic feud between Moscow and the West, Russia has said it believes rebels were behind the incident and has warned any military action without UN approval would violate international law.
US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Ambassador Robert Ford were due to meet with a Russian delegation in The Hague to discuss progress towards organizing a peace conference on Syria.
A senior US State Department official said that the sides would work to "reschedule" the meeting although Gatilov said the encounter had simply been cancelled.
"Working out the parameters of a political solution in Syria would have been especially helpful right now, when military action is hanging over this country," Gatilov said on Twitter.
The comments came a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the "hysteria" over the claimed chemical attack and said Western countries have yet to come up with any proof that the Assad regime was behind it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minister David Cameron in a telephone call yesterday that there was no evidence yet that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons against rebels, Cameron's office said.
Pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper Izvestia yesterday published an interview with Assad who ridiculed as "nonsense" the idea that his regime used chemical weapons and warned the United States of failure if it attacked Syria.
"Given our ongoing consultations about the appropriate response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria on August 21, we have decided to postpone Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and the US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford's meeting with a Russian delegation that was scheduled for this week in the Hague," a senior State Department official said on Monday.