U.N.: Rockets containing sarin used in Syria attack

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (left) speaks to the media with UN chief weapons inspector Ake Sellstrom (right) after briefing the Security Council on the weapons inspectors report on chemical weapons in Syria September 16, 2013 at UN headquarters in New York.

Updated at 2:10 p.m. Eastern

UNITED NATIONS The U.N. inspectors' 41-page report on chemical weapons use in the August attack on civilians outside of Damascus, Syria has been made public and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has briefed the U.N. Security Council on it.

As chemical weapons experts and security analysts pour over the report for signs of blame, the report's appendices include detailed evidence and laboratory analysis that diplomats preliminarily say may well yield information on who is responsible for the attack.

After viewing the report, Mark Lyall, Britain's Ambassador to the United Nations, said Monday there is "no remaining doubt" that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical weapons attack. His American counterpart agreed.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks on September 16, 2013 in New York City.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"Only the regime could have carried out this attack," U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said.

The report, handed down by the head of the mission, Professor Ake Sellstrom, says that "chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children on a relatively large scale."

To support those conclusions, the report states that, "Impacted and exploded surface-to-surface rockets, capable to carry a chemical payload, were found to contain Sarin." The report details the munitions recovered in Moadamiyah and Zamalka/Ein Tarma, including the ordinance numbers and characteristics. And the evidence points to the location from which the rockets were launched and their signatures.

In the report, Ban underscores the point he has made for several weeks, that "any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is a grace violation of international law."

As the interpretation of the evidence emerges, diplomats at the U.N. say the report already appears to be shifting the thinking about whether a use-of-force clause should be included in the U.N. resolution being negotiated this week in New York based on the groundbreaking framework agreement announced Saturday by Russia and the U.S. to identify Syria's chemical weapons, place them under control of the international community.

The framework states that the U.S. and Russia agree that, in the event of non-compliance by Syria, including the unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the Security Council "should impose" measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.

The U.N. weapons report has been distributed to all 193 member states of the General Assembly, including the 15 members of the Security Council.

With the evidence of the report in hand, diplomats from the U.S., U.K. and France now say that accountability needs to be a part of the U.N. action -- either in the form of an International Criminal Court referral in the resolution, or as part of an international conference which U.N. and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is negotiating.

"The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments," said Kerry in Geneva, as he worked on the framework agreement with Russia.

On Monday, Kerry's language grew more adamant: "The framework purely commits the United States and Russia to impose measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter in the event of non-compliance."

The language reflected Russia's opposition to a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force, but alludes to the possibility of a second resolution, if Syria did not comply. The ambiguity of the language also left wiggle room, however, for the Security Council to put the language of Chapter 7 within the first resolution, as an automatic trigger, if Syria fails to comply with the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which will oversee the destruction of the chemical stockpiles.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has said it was rebel forces that fired the toxic gas into Ghouta on Aug. 21, not his own forces. Russia has also suggested that possibility, but called for firm evidence. The Obama administration and many of its allies have concluded that only Assad's military could have been behind the attack, which the White House says left more than 1,400 people dead.

The U.N. inspectors' mandate was to determine only if chemical weapons had been used, and if so which ones, not to assign guilt for the attack to one side or the other. However, evidence of the specific delivery systems and composition of the toxic chemicals used in Ghouta from the U.N. inspectors could prove key to convincing a skeptical Russia that Assad was behind the attack.

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.