Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 16, 2021
Thank you, Vassily. I appreciate the opportunity to speak.
And I suppose, given what’s come before, I should start by stating the obvious: the use of chemical weapons constitutes a threat to peace and security for all states. The United States remains firmly committed to upholding the integrity of international non-proliferation regimes, which is the stated topic of today’s meeting. We certainly share this goal, and we certainly call on all members of this Council to uphold what is a solemn responsibility to help prevent the scourge of chemical weapons.
But I have to also question, whether the motivation for today’s meeting is genuinely to advance international peace and security, or whether it was in fact called, on short notice, by Russia, as a means to deflect attention from the latest evidence of the crimes that have been committed by the Assad regime. We are not here to give oxygen to Syrian and Russian disinformation, nor to play along as Russia continues to impugn the professionalism, the integrity, of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, before this Council.
In this regard, let me acknowledge the presence of a former colleague, Colonel Wilkerson, who has shared his perspective with us. And I thank Colonel Wilkerson for his service to the U.S. military, to the U.S. government. And I appreciate him sharing his perspective based on events that happened a generation ago, and, as he admitted, on his analysis of photos that appeared in media, which he had the opportunity to see as a non-expert. But I think it’s very important we focus on the current situation, and on current facts.
And let me begin by saying, in that regard, the U.S. wholeheartedly supports the impartial and independent work of the OPCW for the professional manner in which it carries out its mission. We fully concur with the findings of the April 12 report of the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team, or IIT. That report, composed of experts, determined that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Assad regime used chlorine as a chemical weapon in Saraqib on February 4, 2018. We know the IIT’s methods were thorough and credible. We know that the IIT attempted to engage with the Syrian government on its investigation, but it was ignored.
The Saraqib attack was not a rogue or accidental event. It was not an attack by some other group. This was the Assad regime, once again, causing suffering for its own people. The damning body of evidence from the OPCW, and the earlier UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism, makes clear that the Assad regime is responsible for using chemical weapons against Syrian civilians on multiple occasions.
Our own assessment is that the Assad regime has in fact used chemical weapons on its own people at least 50 times since the beginning of the conflict. We further assess that the Assad regime retains sufficient chemicals and expertise to use these weapons again.
The Assad regime’s allies – particularly Russia – have repeatedly sought to block international efforts to hold the regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons and numerous other atrocities. Russia prefers to try to sow confusion instead, to claim that the facts are not the facts, that the crystal-clear evidence before us is somehow corrupted. Russia seeks to discredit the integrity and professional work of the OPCW through fatuous and debunked claims. And I’m afraid today’s meeting further demonstrates this ongoing willingness to use the platform of respected multilateral institutions legitimate false claims.
Responsible nations share a duty to uphold the Chemical Weapons Convention. The United States, joined by 45 co-sponsors from around the world, submitted a draft decision to the OPCW Conference of the States Parties in response to Syria’s failure to comply with its obligations. This decision would be an important step in imposing accountability for Syria’s non-compliance. And in this regard, let me say, we’ve heard a lot about the Douma report, and challenges to its integrity. But I would point out, the basis for the draft decision is not the Douma report, it’s the attack on Lataminah. So, in a way, we’re talking about something that doesn’t relate to the key draft decision before the OPCW and States Parties. We call upon the Conference of the States Parties to take the necessary and appropriate action when it reconvenes next week, to send a strong message to the Assad regime that its behavior must have consequences.
Let me close by saying it’s time for the Assad regime to stop making excuses. It’s time for the regime to instead uphold its obligations under Resolution 2118 and the Chemical Weapons Convention. It is time for the responsible nations of the world to finally consign these barbaric weapons to history. And it is time for this Council and the OPCW to ensure accountability for these crimes. All people, including most of all the Syrian people, deserve to live in a world free of the threat of chemical weapons.