The situation in the Middle East - Security Council, 9141st Meeting

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29-Sep-2022 01:35:25
Syria must change attitude, fully cooperate with implementing body tracking progress in ending chemical weapons programme, disarmament chief tells Security Council.

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Syria must change its attitude and cooperate fully with the body charged with verifying its compliance with international law governing chemical weapons, the United Nations disarmament chief told the Security Council today, as speakers diverged over the propriety of that body’s efforts so far.

Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, reported that Syria continues to place conditions on the deployment of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Declaration Assessment Team. In light of this, the OPCW Technical Secretariat has proposed — subject to a change in attitude by Syria — that the shortcomings in Syria’s initial declaration under the Chemical Weapons Convention be addressed through an exchange of correspondence. She noted, however, that such exchanges demonstrably yield fewer results when compared to the Team’s deployment.

Detailing numerous requests for information to which Damascus has yet to respond, she stressed that Syria’s full cooperation is essential to closing all outstanding issues. The Technical Secretariat remains committed to ensuring that Syria fully implements its obligations under the Convention, and in this regard, she reiterated her full support for the integrity, impartiality and independence of OPCW’s work. Recalling that the Convention’s preamble calls on the international community “to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons”, she called for unity within the Council towards this end.

In the ensuing discussion, many Council members called on Syria to cease its continued obstruction of OPCW’s work, highlighting Damascus’ ongoing refusal to provide information relating to its initial declaration and to provide a visa to a member of the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team. Some Council members, against the backdrop of this persistent lack of progress, expressed frustration over the frequency of the Council’s meetings on this file. The character of OPCW’s work also sparked debate as, while some members praised the body’s professionalism and impartiality, others took issue with its conduct.

On that point, the representative of the Russian Federation said that OPCW’s reports repeatedly publish “generic selections of unfounded accusations regarding Syria”, aiming to create the impression that dialogue between OPCW and Syria is faltering due to the latter’s failure to cooperate. However, numerous questions posed to the Technical Secretariat remain unanswered, and the OPCW Director‑General Fernando Arias has not found time to brief the Council. Urging that the leaders of OPCW — not Syria — must change their attitude, he said that “the fact that Mr. Arias is simply running away from the Council like a kindergartner runs away from the principal of a school gives us no grounds to hope that he is prepared to work on his mistakes”.

Ireland’s representative, however, stressed that OPCW should have the Council’s full backing in resolving Syria’s outstanding issues, given that OPCW and the United Nations have found on eight occasions — so far — that the Syrian authorities have used chemical weapons against their citizens. Also spotlighting the 20 significant areas in Syria’s initial declaration that need clarification, he stressed that these are issues that the Council cannot — and must not — ignore, given their ramifications for the people of Syria and the region.

On the Council’s role, the representative of the United Arab Emirates underlined that the goal of the organ’s meetings on the Syrian chemical weapons file is to address outstanding issues between the Syrian authorities and OPCW. On the issues relating to the Declaration Assessment Team’s visit to Syria, he stressed that, although all organizations rely on specialized personnel to complete certain tasks, work must be completed in their absence, particularly when continuation of that work is the principal objective. The Council must make tangible progress on this file pursuant to resolution 2118 (2013), he urged.

The speaker for France, Council President for September, speaking in his national capacity and recalling the genesis of that resolution, said that the Syrian regime “deliberately assassinated” more than 1,000 civilians in a suburb of Damascus with sarin gas nine years ago. No one challenged the reality of that attack, and despite the repetitive nature of these meetings, Council members must not lose sight of what is important. Syria must comply with its international obligations, he underscored, adding that smear campaigns against OPCW “discredit but their authors”.

Similarly, the representative of Ghana, also speaking for Gabon and Kenya, stressed that, while the momentum that initially galvanized the international community into action is dissipating, the matter must be closed to rule out the lingering danger of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. Further, he pointed out that the resolution of this investigation will allow the international community to focus time and resources on the other challenges facing the Syrian people.

Syria’s representative then addressed the Council, stating that his country has been keen to fully cooperate with OPCW since its voluntary accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, even before that instrument entered into force. Detailing Syria’s efforts towards this end, he expressed “astonishment” that the Technical Secretariat and a subsidiary body of the Council tasked with the non‑proliferation of weapons of mass destruction insist on disregarding information submitted on terrorist possession and use of chemical weapons in Syria. “This is a clear and flagrant sign of selectivity and double standards,” he stressed, adding that this “reflects the politicization that controls this file”.

Offering a regional perspective, the representative of Iran stressed that politicizing the implementation of the Convention and using OPCW for political ends endanger both the legitimacy of that instrument and the United Nations. “This is equally deadly as a chemical weapon,” he said. Türkiye’s representative, however, condemned any attempt to discredit OPCW’s valuable work, which is essential to unearthing the truth and holding the perpetrators of chemical-weapon attacks to account. The Assad regime’s failure to respect its international obligations is well-documented, he added.

Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Brazil, Albania, Norway, Mexico, India, China and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:09 p.m.

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