- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The U.N. Security Council voted Monday to extend the mandate of inspectors charged with determining who is behind confirmed chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The resolution extends the mandate for the so-called Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, which was set to expire on Monday, for two weeks while diplomats try to negotiate a longer extension.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre said the mandate extension was only a first step.

“As we all know there are more cases of chemical weapons use in Syria. And so it is absolutely critical that the JIM later gets a one-year mandate to continue its investigation. We consider it very important,” Delattre said.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said that the extension was shorter than what western powers wanted but that it would at least allow the inspectors to continue their work.

“We will then need to come back to these very important issues of accountability to make sure that everyone involved in the heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria is denied impunity and will receive justice,” Rycroft said.

Investigators have already determined that the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks involving chlorine gas and the Islamic State group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas.

The United States, Britain and France want the Security Council to impose sanctions on the Syrian government for using chemical weapons. But Russia, Syria’s closest ally, has repeatedly questioned investigators’ conclusions linking chemical weapons use to the regime of President Bashar Assad.

Russia has said it would also like to expand the inspectors’ mandate to cover the use of chemical weapons by “terrorists” beyond Syrian territory.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison rejected that idea.

“Others may argue that we should broaden the mandate of the JIM, so as to focus on multiple countries. To take away time and resources from the JIM’s work in Syria would constitute a significant distraction, and further delay its critical work. The JIM was set up in Syria for a specific reason - to resolve who was involved - and for that reason it should remain focused on Syria, Sison said.

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