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

John Kelley
Political Counselor
New York, New York
December 5, 2022


Thank you, Mr. President. And I thank the High Representative Nakamitsu, for your informative briefing. We appreciate your persistent efforts, as well as the efforts of the OPCW, to provide independent, thoroughly researched, and detailed information about Syria’s progress, or lack thereof, toward the complete and verifiable elimination of its chemical weapons program.

As we saw last week at the 27th Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international community overwhelmingly supports continuing to hold the Assad regime to account for its use of chemical weapons against civilians, including many children. These efforts must continue. The OPCW Director-General was quite clear in his opening statement to the Conference that the Syrian regime has not taken any efforts to resolve the outstanding discrepancies with its declaration, nor has it taken any steps to ensure the verified destruction of its chemical weapons program.

We were grateful to our French colleagues for delivering a statement on behalf of 57 countries at the OPCW Conference of States Parties, reminding Syria of its obligations under the CWC and rightly admonishing Syria for its appalling lack of cooperation with the OPCW.

Obfuscation and delay, unfortunately, continue to be the only terms we can use to describe the Assad regime’s effort to address its chemical weapons stockpiles. Just last month, the regime agreed to a meeting with the OPCW Technical Secretariat in Beirut to identify opportunities for the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team to conduct activities within Syria in the coming months. Despite initially accepting the invitation, the Assad regime promptly sank any prospect for engagement, by stating it would not attend unless the OPCW’s Secretariat paid for the travel of Syrian officials; a request the regime knew the OPCW could not fulfill.

Such antics have become typical of the regime’s approach to the OPCW and the Declaration Assessment Team. That such a meeting even needed to occur in Beirut, rather than the team visiting Syria itself, demonstrates how unnecessarily difficult the regime has chosen to make this process.

Given Syria’s track record – it has had to amend its declaration of chemical weapons 17 times at the behest of the Declaration Assessment Team – the OPCW will need to corroborate any further Syrian declarations with on-the-ground follow up by the OPCW’s impartial and exceedingly qualified experts. The Assad regime, however, has prevented any such development* since 2021, a clear violation of its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2118, which requires Syria to accept personnel designated by the OPCW, and to provide them with immediate and unfettered access and the right to inspect any and all sites.

The United States reiterates its call for the regime to immediately, and without preconditions, allow for the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team back into Syria so that it can resume its important work of verifying the complete declaration and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The Assad regime’s persistent obstruction of the OPCW’s work is an affront to the OPCW, this Council, and the international community. Yet, the regime continues to enjoy the full support of the Russian Federation as it openly flouts its international obligations. The regime’s actions pose real-world threats, undermine our collective security, and make the world less safe.

The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism and the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) have independently confirmed the regime’s use of chemical weapons on eight occasions. The IIT’s work is ongoing, and we look forward to its future reporting.

We call on the regime to end its intransigence and comply with its obligations under both UN Security Council Resolution 2118 and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Doing so would be a positive step toward enhancing our collective security and help to ensure the horrific scenes of chemical weapons attacks, which we too often witnessed in Syria, are never repeated.

Thank you, Mr. President.