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End Divisions, Act to Resolve Critical Chemical Weapons Issue in Syria, United Nations Disarmament Chief Urges Security Council


Permanent Representative Cites Iraq Invasion, Support for Israel’s Arms Programme, in Response to Critics of Damascus Efforts

Reporting that Syria missed an October deadline to respond to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on the country’s reported use and stockpiling of such weapons, the senior United Nations disarmament official urged today that the Security Council end its divisions on the critical matter and act to resolve it.

“Those who have used chemical weapons must be identified and held to account” emphasized Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, during the regular monthly briefing on the implementation of resolution 2118 (2013). That measure requires the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. “It is my sincere hope that members of this Council will unite on this issue,” she said.

Briefing via video teleconference, she introduced the 26 October report of the OPCW (document S/2020/1056, noting that, since her last briefing, the Office for Disarmament Affairs has not received any further information from Syria concerning issues related to the resolution. On 14 October, the Director-General of OPCW issued a report that states that the Syrian Arab Republic did not meet a 90-day deadline to provide missing information, she recalled. Due to unresolved gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies, the OPCW technical secretariat has assessed that Syria’s initial declaration of the elimination of all chemical weapons in its possession cannot be considered accurate and complete.

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact deployment to Syria, the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team visited Damascus and collected samples to replace those taken during its previous deployment, she said, adding that it also engaged in discussions on outstanding issues. Reminding Council members that efforts to resolve such issues have been ongoing since 2014, she said the OPCW technical secretariat still plans to conduct two rounds of inspections at the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre in 2020. Maintaining that Syria still has not yet provided sufficient information to close the issue of the detection of a toxic chemical at the Barzah facilities, she also pointed out that the investigation by the OPCW fact-finding mission on the use of chemical weapons in Aleppo in 2018 is still inconclusive due to information gaps.

Following that briefing, delegations reiterated their condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in any situation whatsoever. Most speakers strongly supported OPCW and the credibility of its investigations into the use and stockpiling of chemical weapons in Syria, urging that country to cooperate completely with the organization and provide it with the information it needs.

The United Kingdom’s representative and others also condemned the use of nerve agents against individuals and called upon the Russian Federation to credibly investigate allegations under the Chemical Convention.

On the other hand, some representatives — including those of the Russian Federation, China, Syria and Iran — while also condemning any use or stockpiling of chemical weapons, said the issue has been politicized as an attack on the Government of Syria. Arguing that evidence supporting Syria’s claims to have eliminated its chemical weapons and to be in full compliance with the OPCW is being ignored, they called for impartiality and inclusiveness on the part of the OPCW investigative units. Concerning the use of nerve agents against individuals, the Russian Federation’s representative said that matter too has been politicized, adding that his country is working with OPCW on the matter.

The representative of the United States condemned the Syrian regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons and refusal of cooperation with OPCW. When such weapons are used, this Council must unite. Enablers of the Assad regime, such as the Russian Federation, China and Iran, share that responsibility, he emphasized. Noting that the Assad regime used chlorine bombs against its citizens, he expressed doubt that that accountability is within reach because the Council is blocked from assigning it. Unless the behaviour of those enablers changes, there is no reason for Assad to change his behaviour, he warned, stressing that a responsible Government behaves responsibly, cooperates with neighbours and fulfils international obligations. The Syrian regime fails on all those basic obligations, and the Council is impeded by the Russian Federation and China, he said, underlining the need to document atrocities with precision and spotlight the conduct of the enablers.

The representative of the Russian Federation, describing as “predictable” the report accusing Syria of non-compliance, said it is impossible to comply within 90 days and produce a new chemical weapon in facilities already confirmed to have been destroyed. No OPCW inspection since 2013 has been able to prove otherwise, he added. Turning to the Executive Council decision and the subsequent OPCW letter, both in reference to the report of the Investigation and Identification Team, he said its conclusion that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Syria used chemical weapons in Ltamenah, Syria, in March 2017”, was pushed through with a minimal majority of votes.

The Investigation and Identification Team report is a politically biased, factually inaccurate and technically unconvincing document, he continued, noting that, by that time, the Syrian army had restored control of that area and there was no reason for it to use chemical weapons. As for the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of Security Council resolution 2118 (2013), he described it as biased, emphasizing that the United Nations Secretariat should not take sides. Yesterday, he recalled, Western colleagues pushed through the adoption of a resolution on the Chemical Weapons Convention in the First Committee, another biased instrument broadcasting Western ambitions for sanctions. OPCW is facing a “crisis of trust” and a problem of systematic bias, he said, citing numerous questions not answered by its leadership. The Russian delegation continues to insist on discussing such topics in an open format, he stressed.

The representative of Niger said that, since Syria is a member of the Convention, it must comply completely with the OPCW’s investigations. Underlining the need for impartial and fair investigations, he welcomed the twenty-third round of consultations held in Damascus, saying they should help in resolving issues regarding the initial declaration. Light must be shed on allegations made, and on the veracity of information on terrorist acts, he emphasized, urging the investigatory teams to act in a transparent and participatory manner.

The representative of South Africa underlined the seriousness of alleged use of chemical weapons by a State party to the Convention, noting his own country’s full compliance with its obligations in that regard. In order for investigations of such allegations to retain the international community’s confidence in the report’s findings in such a serious matter, they must be conducted in an impartial and non-political way, he said, emphasizing that external interference in the work of OPCW should not be tolerated. South Africa will continue to work for the de‑politicization of all components of the Convention to ensure that the norms against the use of chemical weapons are strengthened, he pledged, urging States parties to unite in ensuring that all such efforts are undertaken in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner. He went on to underline the importance of progress on the political front in order to end the death and destruction in Syria.

The representative of Tunisia called upon the international community to hold users of chemical weapons accountable and expressed support for OPCW’s technical mandate, including its activities in Syria. Noting the latest deployment of OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team for its twenty-third round of consultations despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he urged the Government of Syria to cooperate with OPCW and to fulfil its obligations under the Convention. Any allegations must lead to credible investigations to identify those responsible, he added. Urging the international community to collectively uphold a total ban, he said only concerted, coordinated action will close the chemical weapons dossier.

The representative of France noted that, despite pledging in 2013 to cooperate with OPCW, the Syrian regime has not kept its word. Seven years after the adoption of resolution 2118 (2013), he said, the status of its chemical stockpile is unknown. Further, it is no longer necessary to demonstrate the regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons against its own people, he added, noting that a report published by the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team in April established that the regime’s air force carried out chemical-weapon attacks in Ltamenah, Syria, in March 2017. Emphasizing OPCW’s professionalism and impartiality, he condemned attempts to discredit the organization. He went on to state that restoring the Convention’s credibility is one of the conditions for a just and lasting peace in Syria on the basis of resolution 2254 (2015).

The representative of Indonesia welcomed the latest meeting between the Declaration Assessment Team and the authorities in Damascus, in October, noting that the fact-finding mission continues to study all available evidence related to alleged chemical weapons use in Syria. Indonesia looks forward to reviewing its findings, he said, while warning against jumping to any conclusions or taking positions on one side or another until they are released. Regarding the OPCW Executive Decision in July, he emphasized that continued cooperation with Damascus is critical. He went on to stress that the Council’s monthly discussion on the Syria chemical weapons agenda item must add value, pointing out that the idea of closing the file permanently is increasingly gaining traction as time passes.

The representative of Germany condemned the horrific shelling carried out on 4 November by the Syrian regime in the Idlib area, which killed and injured a number of civilians — including children — and compounded the already dire situation on the ground. Warning that such attacks will only hamper the delivery of any future COVID-19 vaccine to overcrowded camps in which the virus is spreading, he noted that the Russian Federation and Iran — instead of reigning in the Assad regime — continue to allow them. Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing have exacerbated the humanitarian situation by forcing the closure of even more aid crossing points, he said. Emphasizing that no crisis of confidence in OPCW exists, he rejected the statement delivered today by the delegate of the Russian Federation, declaring: “It is [the Russian Federation] that undermines the credibility of OPCW by continually shielding the Assad regime.” He went on to recall that Moscow was caught “red-handed” in 2018 in a cyberattack against OPCW. Meanwhile, the world is waiting for more information about the continued use of the nerve agent Novichok, including against the opposition leader Alexei Navalny, he noted. While Germany is open to many types of meeting formats and diverse briefers, it is regrettable that such matters have become yet another smoke screen to protect the Assad regime and distract from the simple need to compel Syria to disclose its programme fully and end the use of chemical weapons “once and forever”.

The representative of the United Kingdom recalled that the Investigation and Identification Team’s 8 April report found that the Syrian National Army conducted three chemical attacks in Ltamenah, using chlorine and sarin, describing that as further evidence that the country’s initial declarations were incomplete. Syria continues to fail to comply with the Executive Council decisions, he said, pointing out that, in resolution 2118 (2013), the Council decided that in the event of non-compliance, it can impose Chapter VII measures. He went on to describe Syria’s non-compliance as a threat to international peace and security. Turning to the nerve gas attack against Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, he noted that Novichok was also used in the English city of Salisbury, and urged the Russian Federation to investigate the incidents and cooperate with relevant authorities, including the Security Council.

The representative of the Dominican Republic recalled that, shortly after Syria’s accession to the Convention and the adoption of Council resolution 2118 (2013), OPCW confirmed that country’s declared destruction of its stockpiles and production facilities. Despite that historic success, however, there have been complaints and recurrent reports of chemical weapons use, he said, noting that OPCW investigation teams confirmed some of those incidents. That led the Dominican delegation to believe that toxic chemical agents, in particular sarin and chlorine, remain on Syrian territory, he said, urging Syria to cooperate fully with OPCW with a view to finding a tangible solution to long-standing outstanding issues.

The representative of Estonia, noting the difficulty of making progress in the matter, emphasized that Syria’s complete lack of cooperation with OPCW should certainly be dealt with seriously under the Chemical Weapons Convention. The issue is not just a technical or theoretical matter, but one that poses a threat to international peace and security, he said. It is imperative to end impunity for any use of chemical weapons, both to bring justice to victims and to strengthen the norms against any use of such dangerous weapons. Similarly, allegations of toxic attacks against individuals with nerve agents such as Novichok must be investigated under the Convention, he stressed.

The representative of China urged OPCW to maintain its communication with the Syrian Government, noting that that the latter has demonstrated its willingness to communicate with the organization and its efforts should be recognized. Investigations must respect facts and science, he emphasized, adding that they must face the judgment of history. OPCW must provide convincing answers on technical issues, and there must be no jump to conclusions that damages trust in the organization and negatively affects the Syrian peace process, he stressed. The international discussion on such matters must also be inclusive, he continued, recalling the rejection of a knowledgeable briefer at last month’s briefing. Council members should not hold double standards or politicize the issue, he said, urging all concerned to take a responsible approach, step up dialogue and refrain from divisiveness. OPCW must encourage dialogue and consensus, he added. In response to the delegate of the United States, he said that, before speaking of responsible nations, he should consider his own country’s actions and stop interfering with the sovereignty of Syria and other nations in the Middle East.

The representative of Viet Nam said investigations into the possible use of chemical weapons must be comprehensive and conducted in a non-politicized manner to find conclusive, irrefutable evidence. Taking note of the cooperation between OPCW and the Syrian Government in recent years, he praised the continued engagement of both sides despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Such engagement is the most viable way to address outstanding issues and to fully implement resolution 2118 (2013), he said, emphasizing the importance of unity, both among State parties to the Convention and among members of the Security Council.

The representative of Belgium stated that, contrary to the belief of some Council members, the regular meeting is still relevant and necessary. For seven years, Syria has failed to take the necessary steps to implement the Convention and resolution 2118 (2013), he said, emphasizing that the international community cannot accept the lack of progress. It must uphold the norms agreed in the Convention, which represents not only a legal agreement, but also a “moral declaration about the dignity of humanity”. The lack of cooperation on the part of the Syrian authorities has resulted in too little progress, he said, noting that Syria’s declaration of chemical weapons remains incomplete, leaving open the possibility that it retains its stockpiles. Pointing out that the OPCW fact‑finding mission concluded that the Syrian air force was responsible for the use of chemical weapons in March 2017, he underlined the essential need to address all outstanding issues conclusively.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Council President for November, spoke in her national capacity, underlining that the use of chemical weapons cannot be ignored and allegations thereof should never be dismissed. Expressing support for OPCW’s critically important mandate, she said that, in light of the organization’s tremendous responsibility, care should be taken to ensure that its work is impartial and transparent. Noting that her delegation is reviewing the findings of the fact-finding mission’s investigation of into allegations of chemical-weapons use in Saraqib in 2016 and Aleppo in 2018, she stressed that the Council must not overlook the Syrian Government’s many notifications to the effect that armed groups in the country are preparing to use chemical weapons. Measures must be taken to safeguard civilians, she stressed.

The representative of the Russian Federation took the floor a second time, rejecting baseless allegations levelled by some delegates against his country. While the Russian Federation does agree that chemical-weapons use is completely unacceptable, “that’s where our agreement ends”, he said. Several questions about the Sergei Skripal case remain unanswered by the United Kingdom, which nevertheless casts blame against the Russian Federation, he noted, adding that Germany also ignores Moscow’s most basic questions. Regarding the situation in Syria, those delegations seem to have decided that “everything has been proven without a shadow of a doubt”, rendering OPCW a mere toy in their hands, he said, pointing out that, in his propaganda-filled statement today, Germany’s representative tried to brainwash Council members by repeating allegations as if they were facts. He went on to cite “glaring cases of falsification” by OPCW, saying Germany and other countries prefer to continue to “ignore the elephant in the room”.

The representative of Germany urged the Russian Federation’s delegate to view the many photographs of children in Syria buried in mass graves. “There is no doubt that Syria has used chemical weapons,” he said, noting that even Moscow does not dispute that fact. Regarding Alexei Navalny, he said Germany has shared a shortened version of its classified information regarding that case with Council members. He added that, together with Belgium, United Kingdom, Estonia and France, the German delegation sent a letter to Secretary-General urging the Russian Federation to disclose evidence — including medical samples — leading to a full and transparent investigation into the Nalvalny case.

The representative of the Russian Federation took the floor again, saying he has indeed seen the photographs, which have nothing to do with the matter at hand today. It is not the Russian Federation but Germany that has used the present meeting to cast blame on others, he emphasized, requesting that the latter definitively identify the substance used in the Navalny case and answer several other basic questions.

The representative of Syria rejected High Representative Nakamitsu’s statement that her office received no responses from his country’s Government, maintaining that that it has replied to OPCW’s queries and continues to cooperate with its delegations to Damascus. The organization also has access to all the facilities it has requested. He echoed the condemnation of chemical-weapons use, but insisted that Council members stop their “grotesque” politicizing of the matter. Noting that those members insist on denying all evidence in Syria-related matters, whether on the political or humanitarian track, he said their Governments are directly implicated in the terrorist and financial attacks against his country, after attacking Iraq and supporting Israel’s stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction.

Recalling the consequences of false accusations made against Iraq following flawed investigations, he said problems with OPCW investigations are being ignored. Syria does not possess or use chemical weapons and is cooperating with OPCW to put an end to the “circle of machinations and fake news”, he emphasized. Recalling his country’s accession to the Convention and its elimination of chemical agents in 2013, he said deadlines continue to be set nevertheless, ignoring COVID-19. Chemical attacks by terrorists are dismissed, he added, calling upon the High Representative to take into consequence the evidence provided by his country. Remarking on the lack of diplomacy in the Security Council, he asked why Germany’s representative would speak as though his country is at war with Syria after years of good relations.

The representative of Turkey stressed the need for further efforts to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria and urged that country to resolve all outstanding issues related to its initial declarations of stockpiles and production facilities. Emphasizing that the impartiality of the technical secretariat must be supported, not hindered, he noted that the fact-finding mission is working on outstanding issues, and Turkey looks forward to its findings. The work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, the fact-finding mission, the investigation and identification team and the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism has shown enough evidence for the Council to act against impunity, he added. He urged Syria to cooperate fully with OPCW and those with influence to act responsibly.

The representative of Iran, underscoring the need to uphold the credibility of OPCW and its technical secretariat, stated that a group of Member States have systematically abused the process of the Security Council and OPCW to advance politically motivated objectives “at any price”. They have cited a series of unsubstantiated allegations against the Syrian Government and ignored the progress achieved by that country in its implementation of its obligations under the Convention, he said. Syria has provided OPCW with 83 monthly reports and committed to work with the organization to resolve outstanding issues as soon as possible. However, some countries continue to pursue unproductive policies in the Security Council and OPCW, leading to division in both bodies and the erosion of credibility, he noted. That frustrates implementation of the Convention, as does the blatant failure of the United States to destroy its own stockpile of chemical weapons, he pointed out.

For information media. Not an official record.