The situation in the Middle East- Security Council, 8849th Meeting

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02-Sep-2021 02:09:17
Remaining inconsistencies, assessment delays due to COVID holding up verification of Syria chemical weapons disarmament, high representative tells Security Council.

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Nearly eight years after the Security Council mandated the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) — tasked with ensuring that goal is achieved — is still not able to consider the file closed, the senior United Nations disarmament official told delegates today.

Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the 15-member Council on her Office’s recent engagement with its OPCW counterparts. Noting that their work remains subject to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic and conditions on the ground, she reported that the Syrian authorities requested talks with the organization’s Declarations Assessment Team to be pushed back to October from the initially requested date in September. She also noted that, due to several remaining “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies”, the OPCW is still unable to consider the declaration made by Syria to be complete or accurate.

“Full cooperation by the Syrian Arab Republic with the Technical Secretariat is essential to close those outstanding issues,” she said, detailing the latter’s intention to conduct inspections of two Syrian Science and Research Centre sites. Noting that plans to hold a meeting between the Syrian authorities and OPCW officials in October are still on track, she expressed her hope that a substantive and constructive exchange will be held on the way forward for OPCW’s mandated activities.

Recalling that two chlorine cylinders — suspected to have been used in the alleged 2018 chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma — were destroyed in a June attack on a military facility, she noted that the cylinders were 60 kilometres away from the site where they were previously stored and inspected, despite OPCW’s previous warnings to the Syrian authorities not to open, move or alter their contents in any way without the organization’s prior consent. Emphasizing that any chemical weapons use is totally unacceptable and that those responsible must be held accountable, she cautioned that the world must not risk tolerating such crimes or treating them with impunity.

As Council members took the floor, many reiterated their strong condemnation of the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, under any circumstances. While some expressed concern over the delays outlined by Ms. Nakamitsu and the latest OPCW report, others spotlighted Syria’s continued cooperation with the organization and urged all parties to engage in dialogue and stay the course. Several speakers also voiced concern that the Tripartite Agreement between Syria, OPCW and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) was extended for only three months, rather than the nine-month period initially proposed.

The representative of the United States said the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has repeatedly used chemical weapons and has tried to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations. Noting that the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team has attributed four separate chemical weapons attacks in Syria to his regime, she voiced support for its impartial and independent efforts and expressed concern that Syria continues to ignore calls for cooperation. “We now have overwhelming evidence of numerous incidents of non-compliance by the Assad regime,” she stressed.

Norway’s representative, noting that 21 August marked the eighth anniversary of the incident in the town of Ghouta that led to the adoption of resolution 2118 (2013), expressed regret that the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team has yet to deploy to Syria. Regular inspections, including of the Barzah and Jamraya facilities of the Syrian Scientific Studies Research Centre, must remain a priority. She also joined others in voicing concern that the extension of the Tripartite Agreement for only three months could have an adverse impact on OPCW’s ability to plan and conduct its mandated activities.

The representative of Tunisia expressed his delegation’s support for the OPCW mandate to serve as an impartial investigative body. Commending initial agreements to hold a meeting between the OPCW and the Syrian Government in October, he expressed his wish that it will mark the beginning of constructive dialogue, trust-building and mutual engagement. He also joined other speakers in emphasizing the importance of transparent, impartial investigations into any instances where the use of chemical weapons was likely, adding that the OPCW’s efforts would be more effective if they were based on strong support from the Security Council and the broader international community.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the latest OPCW report is as unbalanced as its previous ones. “Our Western colleagues are very carefully sidestepping the issue of the air strike” on a sovereign State, he said, referring to the attack that destroyed the chlorine cylinders and asking the Council to consider who stands to benefit from getting rid of such important material evidence. Stressing the absence of any real evidence of any violation by Damascus of the Chemical Weapons Convention, he said the OPCW is merely trying to create the impression that Syria is causing delays. In fact, she said, Damascus continues its cooperation with the organization.

Syria’s delegate echoed those points, decrying false allegations against his country — especially by the United States, which continues down its longstanding path of aggression and proxy war. Pointing out that Syria voluntarily joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and has met its obligations in record time, he said it continues to cooperate with OPCW and has always granted entry visas to its staff. Additionally, he emphasized that the OPCW fact-finding mission investigating the alleged Douma incident has not adhered to the standard procedures laid out in the Chemical Weapons Convention, including on the collection of samples and chain of custody, and continues to rely on information from unverified sources.

The representative of Iran, reaffirming her country’s commitment to the Chemical Weapons Convention, stressed the importance of its universality and non-discriminatory implementation. Noting that independent, impartial and professional work by the OPCW is of the utmost importance, she noted Syria’s efforts to complete the destruction of its chemical weapons programme in the shortest possible time and under severe conditions. “It is extremely disappointing that the Syrian chemical file has been politicized by a certain group of countries,” she concluded.

Also speaking were the representatives of China, Estonia, the United Kingdom, India, Mexico, France, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Viet Nam, Niger, Kenya, Ireland and Turkey.

The meeting began at 3:01 p.m. and ended at 4:43 p.m.
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