Ambassador Kelly Craft
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 28, 2020
Thank you, Vasily. Earlier this month, Russia requested that the Security Council’s monthly video teleconference on Syria chemical weapons takes place in an open format. The United States welcomes these opportunities to expose to the world the hypocrisy and disinformation Russia continues to spread in its attempts to shield the Assad regime from accountability for its continued chemical weapons attacks.
In 2013, this Council adopted Resolution 2118 welcoming the Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons. That Framework, brokered by Russia and the United States, sought to, and I quote: “ensure the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program in the soonest and safest manner.” Further, the Framework set the first half of 2014 as the target date for completing elimination of all categories of chemical weapons material and equipment.
Contrary to the facts before our own eyes, Russia would have us believe the Assad regime has complied. In the real world, since the adoption of Resolution 2118, the Assad regime has used chemical weapons repeatedly to kill and to terrorize the Syrian people. The regime’s use of chemical weapons is well documented and confirmed by the former OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism and most recently the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team. According to OPCW reports, the regime has declined to cooperate fully with the OPCW, refused to address numerous discrepancies, and failed to disclose and destroy its chemical weapons program.
Taken together, these reports are further evidence of Syria’s non-compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and Resolution 2118, and its utter disregard for human life and international norms and standards. The Assad regime has failed to comply with its international obligations related to the use of chemical weapons – including those it took when it voluntarily became party to the CWC. The obligations under Resolution 2118 are also binding on the regime. The Assad regime’s non-compliance with these obligations poses a direct threat to the Syrian people and must change. As long as the Assad regime refuses to change its behavior, the Syrian people will remain at risk, the prospect of a peaceful political resolution to this conflict that is in line with the Security Council Resolution 2254 will remain out of reach, and Syria will remain a threat to security and stability in the region.
Let’s recognize today’s demonstration for what it is – a stunt.
The question we must ask ourselves is, why is Russia so eager to protect a regime that has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own people? What we are seeing here today is another desperate and failed attempt by Russia to further spread disinformation, attack the professional work of the OPCW, and distract from an ongoing effort by responsible nations to hold the Assad regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons and numerous other atrocities. We have seen this performance before: it is getting old and it does not work. The world can see what is happening.
Let me say a word about the Assad regime and Russia’s smear campaign against the Syria Civil Defense. The White Helmets are heroic first responders that the United States is proud to support. I had the honor of personally meeting the White Helmets in March on the Turkish-Syrian border. These brave humanitarian heroes knowingly put themselves in harm’s way every day to save people from barbaric attacks on civilians by the Assad regime and its allies. They told me how they kiss their children goodbye every day before heading out the door not knowing if they will return home. The sacrifice of the White Helmets should be celebrated by all of us because these men and women are on the front line everyday whether it is helping protect communities from COVID-19 or diving into the rubble of a school or an apartment building after an airstrike. To suggest that they are anything short of heroic is unconscionable.
To conclude, as we have stated previously, the United States expresses its unequivocal condemnation of the use of chemical weapons, in Syria or anywhere else. We also call on Russia to stop enabling and defending the Assad regime, a serial violator of international obligations and human rights. This Council must act to enforce Resolution 2118 – and uphold the norm against the use of chemical weapons to ensure that those who have used them are held to account. The use of chemical weapons by any state presents an unacceptable threat to all states.