Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Chemical Weapons in Syria

Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 4, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, High Representative Nakamitsu for your briefing today. We appreciate your efforts and we commend the work of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – the OPCW – in dealing with this gravely important issue. Let me also say that the Director General has the full confidence of the United States government and his professionalism and patience in dealing with this file is commendable.

Despite the Assad regime’s frequent denials, it is clear that the regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons. The OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team – IIT – has now attributed four separate chemical weapons attacks in Syria to the Assad regime. These incidents are in addition to the four chemical weapons attacks attributed to the Assad regime by the former OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism. Although the evidence of the regime’s culpability is clear, and its CWC declaration remains incomplete, Syria has subsequently sought to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations and failing to cooperate with the OPCW in a brazen attempt to undermine the Organization’s work as the implementing body of the CWC.

And as we heard, we are seeing this obstruction again this month with the regime’s failure to grant visas to all members of the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team – the DAT – which, as we heard, was scheduled to deploy to Syria after several months of non-response from the Assad regime. The Assad regime has even singled out an experienced member of the DAT and refused to issue that person a visa, despite the fact that this expert had deployed to Syria for this function multiple times over the last seven years. The delays to schedule this consultation, the refusal of this visa has hampered the DAT’s ability to do its job and it is clearly a deliberate attempt to delay and obstruct the work of this important team. We call on the Assad regime to fully cooperate with the OPCW in accordance with its international obligations and to adhere to Resolution 2118, including through the granting of visas to OPCW personnel.

Mr. President, a representative of the Assad regime, in a September 27 speech to the UN General Assembly, claimed that the regime’s accession to the CWC served as evidence that it had not used and would not use chemical weapons. However, it is incontrovertible, given the overwhelming evidence collected by the OPCW with the support of brave Syrian documentation groups, that the regime has utterly failed to comply with its obligations under the CWC. It is evident the regime continues to ignore calls from the international community to fully disclose and verifiably eliminate its chemical weapons program. We concur with the OPCW’s assessment that disclosures submitted by the Assad regime concerning its chemical weapons cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the CWC, and we urge the regime to work closely with the OPCW on this pressing issue.

Repeated and continued failures by the Assad regime to comply with its obligations under international law must not be tolerated. We welcomed the Conference of the States Parties’ April 21 decision to condemn Syria’s use of chemical weapons and to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under the CWC. Let me be clear, this decision was a legitimate exercise of the CSP – the Committee of States Parties – authority under the convention, and though my math may be different than my Russian colleagues, facts are not. This decision was adopted overwhelmingly by nearly 90 nations around the world and opposed by 15. Far exceeding the required two-thirds majority of those present and voting under the OPCW’s own rules.

The Assad regime’s allies, including Russia, also have actively sought to block all efforts to promote accountability. Russia continues to defend the Assad regime’s failures to adhere to its obligations, including by spreading disinformation, attacking the integrity and the professional work of the OPCW, and otherwise seeking to impede ongoing efforts by responsible nations to hold the Assad regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons and for numerous other atrocities. This pattern of enablement is irresponsible, and it is dangerous.

It is long past time for the Assad regime to uphold its obligations under the CWC and Resolution 2118. The Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter in response to Syria’s non-compliance with Resolution 2118. At this point, there can be no doubt, Mr. President, that the Syrian government has repeatedly violated its international obligations, including its failure to cooperate with the OPCW through the denial of visas. It is time for this Council to take resolute action and respond to Syria’s noncompliance.

Thank you, Mr. President.