Syria Must Respond Urgently to Complete All Pending Issues on Eliminating Chemical Weapons Programme, Disarmament Chief Tells Security Council
Syria must respond urgently to complete all outstanding issues on the elimination of its chemical weapons programme in line with international law, the United Nations disarmament chief told the Security Council today, citing the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Technical Secretariat’s evaluation that the country’s declarations still have not advanced.
“As has been stressed on a monthly basis for many years now, due to the identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved, the Technical Secretariat continues to assess that, at this stage, the declaration submitted by the Syrian Arab Republic cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention,” said Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.
The Technical Secretariat’s efforts to organize the twenty-fifth round of consultations between its Declaration Assessment Team and the Syrian National Authority also continue to be unsuccessful, she said, stressing that the Technical Secretariat remains fully committed to helping Syria fulfil its obligations under the Convention. Towards that end, Damascus has now responded to communication between the focal points charged with preparing for an in-person meeting that the OPCW Director-General requested with Syria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates.
The outcome of the Technical Secretariat’s ninth round of inspections of the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre conducted from 11 to 18 September will be reported on in due course, she added. Pointing to the ongoing work as well of the OPCW fact-finding mission and the Investigation and Identification Team, she said: “Those who have used chemical weapons must be identified and held to account,” voicing hope that Council member will unite on the issue.
In the ensuing debate, many Council members, noting the lack of progress on the matter, underscored Syria’s continued obstruction of OPCW’s work, while others questioned the convening of the current meeting, as well as the frequency of the Council’s meetings on the issue. Several speakers underlined their countries’ commitment to the complete prohibition of chemical weapons and countering impunity and called on Syria to fully cooperate with OPCW.
Ireland’s representative, expressing deep regret at the lack of visible progress on the file, stressed that “Syria cannot be allowed to simply wait out the interest of the international community, while it seeks to retain, or reconstitute, its chemical weapons capacities”. It is crucial that this item is discussed regularly by the Council to signal to Syria that their lack of cooperation will not go unanswered, she added.
The speaker for the United States underscored that the Assad regime, rather than comply with its agreements and make the world safer, has worked instead “to pull the wool over the eyes of this Council”. With backing from the Russian Federation, it continues to obfuscate and delay, he stressed, calling on “those with influence over the Assad regime” to encourage Damascus to immediately permit the Team to return to Syria.
The United Kingdom’s representative, in a similar vein, said that Syria and the Russian Federation have long used deceit and disinformation to deflect attention from appalling war crimes committed in Syria. Stressing that Syria’s non-compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention poses a threat to international peace and security, he called for accountability for the Assad regime’s historic use of chemical weapons and for the Council to continue to address these issues.
The speaker for the United Arab Emirates, however, said that the latest OPCW report did not contain any new developments that warrant convening the current meeting. Stressing the importance of a constructive dialogue between OPCW and the Syrian authorities to resolve pending issues, she warned that communicating solely through written correspondence will not achieve that purpose, echoing other delegations who urged direct consultations.
Also taking issue with the OPCW report, the Russian Federation’s representative said that it replicates unfounded allegations against Syria. The schedule for discussing the implementation of Council resolution 2118 (2013) needs to be streamlined, he said, adding that, if OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias does not deign to speak before the Council, discussions of the Syrian chemical dossier each month are pointless.
China’s representative, on that note, said the Council should reduce the frequency of meetings on the issue or consider combining various Syrian issues to improve efficiency.
Syria’s representative said that, once again, the Council is examining the issue in the absence of any development or event. “All it is an opportunity for some known countries with the [United States] at the forefront to repeat accusatory rhetoric targeting Syria.” Since joining the Convention in 2013, Syria has voluntarily cooperated with OPCW, and has destroyed its weapons stockpile and production facilities in record time. Syria has not stopped any civil servant or team from accessing its territory, he underscored, noting that all issues are being examined jointly by his Government and the Technical Secretariat. Pointing to certain countries’ politicization of the file on Syria, he warned that that destructive behaviour will not allow the professional, impartial conclusion of the file.
Iran’s representative concurred, stressing that politicizing the Chemical Weapons Convention and OPCW endangers the legitimacy of both. He urged OPCW and Syria to continue their contact and interaction, noting that the high-level meeting that is currently being arranged between Syria’s Foreign Minister and the OPCW Director-General has the potential to resolve outstanding issues.
Also speaking today were representatives of Brazil, France, Mexico, Albania, Norway, India, Ghana (also on behalf of Gabon and Kenya) and Türkiye.
ROBERT A. WOOD (United States), recalling Syria’s 2013 plan, submitted to the OPCW, for the systematic destruction of its chemical weapons programme, said that “the Assad regime has no shame”. Rather than comply with its agreements and make the world safer, that regime has worked instead “to pull the wool over the eyes of this Council,” he said. With backing from the Russian Federation, it continues to obfuscate and delay, he said, adding that Syria continues to prevent the deployment of the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team in clear violation of its obligations under Council resolution 2118 (2013). That Team has now proposed to address unresolved issues via correspondence, he noted, and while commending it for seeking a way forward, he stressed that document review is no substitute for deploying to Syria. “Those with influence over the Assad regime” must encourage Damascus to immediately permit the Team to return to Syria, he said.
VADIM S. KIRPICHENKO (Russian Federation) said that “yet again we received a copy and pasted report” from the OPCW Director-General. Noting that the next meeting of the Council on this matter may be held in early November, he asked: “What is the point of today’s discussion?” The refusal of OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias to brief the Council suggests that he is afraid of responding to inconvenient questions regarding its politicized approach to the Syrian chemical dossier, he said, adding that the report replicates unfounded allegations against Syria. Once again that country will have to “plug the gaps” and describe its cooperation with the Technical Secretariat, which is not mentioned in the report. The schedule for discussing the implementation of Council resolution 2118 (2013) needs to be streamlined, he said, adding that as long as Mr. Arias does not deign to speak before the Council, discussions of the Syrian chemical dossier each month are pointless.
TAINÃ LEITE NOVAES (Brazil), noting that little seems to have changed in the situation on the ground or the relationship between the Syrian Government and the OPCW, stressed that holding monthly meetings on this issue is not efficient in terms of time and resources. Reaffirming his country’s traditional position, he outlined that chemical weapons are incompatible with international humanitarian law and therefore have no place in today’s world. Adding that use of such weapons violates international agreements and poses serious threats to international peace and security, he pointed out that incidents must be addressed with transparency and be subject to thorough investigations in line with the Chemical Weapons Convention.
ISIS MARIE DORIANE JARAUD-DARNAULT (France), in deploring the lack of progress on this issue, stressed that the Syrian regime continues to obstruct OPCW’s work, with the Technical Secretariat having to renounce its deployment of the Declaration Assessment Team. Pointing to the need for Syria to “shed light on all of its stockpiles and comply with international obligations,” she urged the Government to respond in writing to the questions addressed by the Technical Secretariat regarding its initial declaration, as well as a meeting to be held between the two parties. Commending the OPCW for continuing its work with tenacity, independence and professionalism, she described the discreditation campaigns against the organization as “inadmissible”. She recalled that countering impunity and the complete prohibition of chemical weapons use remain her country’s priorities.
CARMEN ROBLEDO LÓPEZ (Mexico), noting the scant lack of progress on addressing the use of chemical weapons in Syria and that 20 issues relating to Syria’s initial declaration remain unclarified, added that it has not been possible to hold a consultation meeting between Syrian authorities and the Declaration Assessment Team since February 2021. Further, no clarification has been received regarding the unauthorized movement of chlorine cylinders related to the 2018 Douma incident; nor has any information been provided on the chemical waste identified at the Barzah facility in November 2018. She reiterated her appeal to the Syrian Government to cooperate with the OPCW Team in good faith. While taking note of efforts of the Technical Secretariat to make progress on the file despite all obstacles, she pointed out that it is not a substitute for direct consultation. Taking note of inspections carried out in September at Barzah and Jamrayah, as well as the recent deployment of the fact-finding mission, she expressed hope that the meeting between Syria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates and the OPCW Director-General will be held soon in Beirut, on the understanding that a proposed agenda is in place and that civil servants on either side have already been assigned as focal points.
CAÍT MORAN (Ireland) expressed deep regret at the lack of visible progress on the file, despite the determination and flexibility of the OPCW Technical Secretariat in seeking to work with Syria to resolve significant outstanding issues. While Syria provides excuses for failing to adhere to its obligations at OPCW and the Council, she pointed out that it continues to place conditions on OPCW’s work and its engagement with the Technical Secretariat, and has blocked consultations with the Declaration Assessment Team for more than a year, contrary to resolution 2118 (2013). Further, Syria has failed to agree to the agenda and parameters for a meeting between the OPCW Director-General and Syria’s Foreign Minister, also outstanding for more than a year, and continues to undermine the work and reputation of OPCW and its investigation teams. On the repeated concern raised by Syria on chemical weapons falling into the hands of non-State actors, she said “Syria’s words do not match its actions”, pointing out that the OPCW receives no cooperation from Syria in following up on these alleged cases. She underscored the need for Syria to end its prevarication and engage in a serious, urgent and meaningful way with the Technical Secretariat, stressing: “Syria cannot be allowed to simply wait out the interest of the international community, while it seeks to retain, or reconstitute, its chemical weapons capacities.” It is crucial that this item is discussed regularly by the Council to signal to Syria that its lack of cooperation will not go unanswered, she added.
ANDRIS STASTOLI (Albania) said that to date, following numerous OPCW reports, Syria’s chemical weapons program continues to remain outside the control of the international community. “It is clear that Syria is unwilling to cooperate with the OPCW and its teams in the Technical Secretariat,” he stressed, noting that some of those staff are being denied access in the country. He voiced full support for the objective, impartial and professional work of the OPCW technical team, and commended the fact-finding mission for its ongoing activities on determining the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as well as the Investigation Bureau and Identification Team for ongoing activities to identify perpetrators of the use of chemicals weapons in Syria. Impunity for the use of chemical weapons must not and will not be tolerated, he stressed, urging the swift closure of investigations into their use.
MEENA ASIYA SYED (Norway) said the twice-yearly inspections of the Barzah and Jamrayah Scientific Studies and Research Centre facilities are important for fostering a spirit of positive engagement and dialogue between the Secretariat and the Syrian authorities. She voiced hope that the inspections in September will catalyse beneficial discussions on other topics for cooperation, including preparations for a meeting between OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias and Syrian Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad. However, to fully implement Council resolution 2118 (2013), there remain numerous issues that require immediate attention, she said, urging Syria to cooperate and comply fully with OPCW’s requests. She further urged Syria to provide sufficient technical information and explanations to close the 20 outstanding issues from its initial declaration that remain unresolved. Syria must complete the necessary measures to lift the suspension of its rights and privileges as a State party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, she stressed.
SHAHD JAMAL YOUSUF IBRAHIM MATAR (United Arab Emirates), reiterating her country’s condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances, stressed the importance of a constructive dialogue between the OPCW and the Syrian authorities to resolve pending issues. Communicating solely through written correspondence will not achieve this purpose, she said, also adding that the latest report did not contain any new developments that warrant convening the current meeting. Highlighting the importance of using the time and resources of the Council wisely, she said it should reconsider the number of meetings held regarding the chemical weapons track.
FERGUS JOHN ECKERSLEY (United Kingdom), stressing that Syria’s refusal to cooperate with the OPCW is inexcusable, reiterated that the 20 outstanding issues are not academic: they include the whereabouts of several hundred tons of chemical warfare agents, whose destruction still cannot be verified. Syria and the Russian Federation have long used deceit and disinformation in an attempt to deflect attention from appalling war crimes committed in Syria, he said. Stressing that Syria’s non-compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention poses a threat to international peace and security, he called for accountability for the Assad regime’s historic use of chemical weapons. Underscoring that the Council must continue to address these issues, he added that the international community must not allow impunity.
XING JISHENG (China), opposing the use of chemical weapons by any country, organization or individual under any circumstances, stated that dialogue and consultations are the only ways to resolve this issue. Taking note of the correspondence between the Syrian Government and the Technical Secretariat, he called on the latter to fully respect the concerns of the Government regarding the visa issue and take steps to remove the obstacles towards the twenty-fifth round of the technical consultations. OPCW’s investigations should be restricted within the Chemical Weapons Convention, he added, and should be compliant with procedural requirements, with reliable evidence and credible conclusions. He reiterated that the Council should reduce the frequency of meetings on this issue or consider combining various Syrian issues to improve efficiency.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India), noting the consistent lack of progress on the discussions on Syria in the Council, reiterated that his country has encouraged sustained engagement between Syria and the OPCW Technical Secretariat to resolve all outstanding issues. Attaching high importance to the Chemical Weapons Convention and its implementation, he stressed that his Government is against the use of chemical weapons by anybody, anywhere, at any time and under any circumstances. Any investigation into the use of chemical weapons must be impartial, credible and objective, he added. Recalling that his Government has repeatedly cautioned against the possibility of terrorist entities and individuals gaining access to chemical weapons, including in the region, he emphasized that any allegation of the use of chemical weapons needs to be addressed with utmost attention.
HAFIZ ISSAHAKU (Ghana), also speaking on behalf of Gabon and Kenya, took note of the submission of the 106th report of OPCW, highlighting the unchanged situation since the last briefing, which has become characteristic of the Syrian chemical weapons file in recent times, and expressed concern at the lack of significant progress in the attempts to fully address the issue in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. Reiterating his support for Council resolution 2118 (2013), he called for concerted global efforts to expedite action on verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons to give full meaning to the resolution and the Convention. Further, he called on Syrian authorities to cooperate constructively with the OPCW Technical Secretariat to help facilitate the conclusive resolution of all outstanding issues, including the organization of the twenty-fifthround of consultations with the Declaration Assessment Team. In this regard, he welcomed the proposed meeting by Syrian authorities in Beirut with the OPCW and called on both parties to reconcile their positions on the agenda of the meeting. Pending the closure of the matter, he stressed that “the lingering danger of the production and possible use of chemical weapons in Syria or elsewhere cannot be completely ruled out”.
BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria) observed that, once again, the Council is examining the issue in the absence of any development or event, which requires the current debate to take place. “All it is an opportunity for some known countries with the [United States] at the forefront to repeat accusatory rhetoric targeting Syria,” he stressed. Syria’s cooperation with OPCW should be recognized, he said, pointing out that, since its voluntarily accession to the Convention in 2013, it has voluntarily cooperated with that organization, and has destroyed its stockpile of weapons, as well as the facilities allowing their production, in record time. States such as the United States, France and United Kingdom deliberately ignore that truth for political reasons, to destabilize Syria and upset its security situation. Their accusations regarding chemical weapons facilities in Syria have no foundation, legal or otherwise, he added.
Those countries who are violating the Convention should be held accountable for crimes perpetrated against Syrians and for their use of chemical weapons or manufacture thereof. “We should stop being talked down to,” he said, pointing out that Western partners or other parties, rather than reducing their chemical weapons arsenals, have instead put forward fallacious arguments. Some members of the Council say that OPCW teams are doing their work professionally and impartially, he said, questioning the working methods of the fact-finding mission which are “discriminatory in nature”. Moreover, the reports submitted by those same teams serve the political agendas of certain countries and mask the military aggression perpetrated by three Council members against his country, he said, questioning the reports’ credibility. He urged the Council to think in greater depth about those issues.
Syria is satisfied with the meeting of the Declaration Assessment Team, he said, stressing that the Technical Secretariat must recognize that, for nine years, Syria has not stopped any civil servant or team from accessing its territory, underscoring that Syria is “not holding any work hostage”. All issues are being examined jointly by Syria and the Technical Secretariat, he said, noting that, currently, there is no final conclusion to the matter. He rejected certain countries’ insistence in ignoring the clarification provided by Syria and using incorrect and unverified information. He reaffirmed Syria’s commitment to holding a high-level meeting between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates and the OPCW Director-General as soon as possible and in line with an agenda to be agreed by both parties. The Technical Secretariat had finally on 3 October responded to Syria’s proposal regarding the holding of an organizational meetings between the focal points of the two parties in Beirut to prepare that high-level meeting, he noted.
Underscoring the illegal nature of the creation of the Investigation and Identification Team, he pointed out that the Convention did not charge the OPCW Technical Secretariat with undertaking such inquiries regarding responsibility for the use of chemical weapons. Moreover, the creation of that team pursuant to a resolution imposed by a vote and with the agreement of very few States parties to the Convention contradict consensus by which the organization generally works, he said, underscoring Syria’s repudiation and refusal to recognize that team and its working methods. Syria totally condemns the use of chemical weapons, whomever the perpetrator or circumstance may be, and does not wish to hinder the organization’s work, he affirmed. Noting certain countries’ instrumentalization and politicization of the file on Syria, he warned that that destructive behaviour will not allow the professional and impartial conclusion of the file.
AMIR SAEID JALIL IRAVANI (Iran), condemning the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances, said that politicizing the Chemical Weapons Convention and OPCW endangers the legitimacy of both. Urging OPCW and Syria to continue their contact and interaction, he noted that the high-level meeting that is currently being arranged between Syria’s Foreign Minister and the OPCW Director-General has the potential to resolve outstanding issues. Also commending Syria for submitting the 107th monthly report to the OPCW Director-General, he noted that the country has also facilitated the Technical Secretariat’s visit to conduct the ninth inspection tour of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre. Dedicating one monthly meeting of the Council to the repetition of unfounded allegations against the Syrian Government is not conducive to the Security Council’s efficiency, he added.
MEMET MEVLÜT YAKUT (Türkiye) called on the Syrian regime to fully cooperate with the OPCW Technical Secretariat and provide necessary information as obligated under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Noting that independent investigations have established that the Assad regime is responsible for resorting to chemical weapons against its own population on multiple occasions, he expressed hope for the completion of ongoing investigations, especially the next report by the Investigation and Identification Team on the Douma attack in 2018. Reiterating that the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances is a grave violation of international law, he stressed that a genuine political reconciliation in the country would only be possible through justice and accountability. “It is high time that the members of this Council left their political differences behind and took steps to enforce the Council’s own resolution, namely resolution 2118 (2013),” he emphasized.
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