Before examining the findings of the full UN report published recently, I thought it would be interesting to review the press conference that accompanied it, which provides some interesting information.
The most interesting findings:
16:00 - While probably not too relevant anymore, Sellstrom makes a very significant statement distancing himself from the "trajectory intersection" theory, saying "The flight paths do not seem to meet as may be indicated in the report", and adds that a range of 2km for the UMLACA is "a fair guess".
9:30 and 17:10 - In these two questions Sellstrom is asked about the sarin's quality, referencing his early statement that hinted at high-quality sarin (which was of course interpreted to imply regime culpability). He seems to avoid the first question (9:30) by addressing only the recent incidents where samples were taken from blood and not from soil. The second question (17:10) is more direct, prompting the interesting and evasive response: “I tried to make some comment on the quality of sarin and I compared it to my experience in Iraq”, which seems like an attempt to downplay the original statement and undo its effect.
41:00 - Probably the most interesting finding. Here the panel is asked whether the munitions reported by Syria to the OPCW were related to those used in Ghouta. The response:
"I could say 'No Comment', but I will give you an answer: Not really, there’s no information that sheds light on what happened in Ghouta”.To understand the significance of this statement it should be explained that the information provided by Syria to the OPCW is confidential and cannot be shared. Sellstrom therefore cannot answer the question directly, but his response heavily hints that UMLACAs were not reported as a Syrian chemical weapon, which is in line with the analysis that it is a repurposed incendiary rocket. Of course, other explanations are also plausible, such as the government secretly destroying a stockpile of chemical UMLACAs to avoid it being associated with the attack.
Update: This report claims that UMLACAs were indeed not reported to the OPCW, but does not provide direct evidence.
Overall, it is hard to miss the difference in attitude during this press conference compared to the spirit of the interim report. While in September the message was along the lines of "We're not allowed to tell you , but we all know who did it", the team is now much more cautious, clearly stating that the evidence is insufficient to implicate either side (39:00), and there is no "information that will stand in court" (43:30).
Update: This WSJ article about the UN report contains two interesting statements from Sellstrom:
But Mr. Sellstrom said he believed both sides in the conflict had the "opportunity" and the "capability" to carry out chemical weapons attacks. Mr. Sellstrom had just arrived in Damascus to negotiate a visit to Khan al-Assal when the Aug. 21 attack occurred. He said one of his earliest reactions to the attack was that the Syrian government had to be stupid to pull it off with U.N. inspectors in town.Did I miss anything? Please share your evidence and analysis and help improve the conclusions.