Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Chemical Weapons in Syria (via VTC)

Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 5, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President, and let me join you in extending a welcome to the five new members of the Council who joined us this month. On behalf of Ambassador Craft and everyone here at the U.S. Mission, we look forward to working with them closely on this issue and on others. And let me also wish everyone a happy New Year.

Thank you, High Representative Nakamitsu for your briefing. I don’t think there is any disagreement with your closing words that chemical weapons are unacceptable, there use is inexcusable, there is no dispute over their barbarity and their unacceptability. Yet, today, our first meeting of 2021, we find ourselves, as members of the UN Security Council, still fighting for a century-old global norm never to use these weapons again. Every month, this Council meets to urge Syria to implement its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and under Security Council Resolution 2118, and to hold Syria accountable when it fails to do so.

We are all aware on this Council that in the more than seven years since the Assad regime’s accession to the Convention, it has failed to fulfill these obligations and it has sought to make a mockery of the structures in place to realize a world free of chemical weapons.

The Security Council, we believe, has a responsibility to ensure that there are serious consequences for those who use chemical weapons. We cannot remain silent nor allow chemical weapons and their use to become normalized or acceptable. The United States condemns in the strongest terms the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, often in urban areas where civilians live and work.

Assad’s chemical weapons use is not in dispute. His chemical weapons use is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of fact, confirmed by the OPCW. It is incumbent upon this Council to hold Syria to account for its use of chemical weapons and its obligations under Resolution 2118. We support all efforts toward accountability. These are essential to bring long-overdue justice to the victims of the Assad regime, who need and deserve the international community’s support. Moreover, accountability is also a confidence-building measure as part of the broader political process that we called for in Resolution 2254, which will bring stability and peace to Syria and to the Syrian people.

The United States firmly supports the impartial and independent work of the OPCW. Given what I know my colleague will say who intervenes after me, let me be clear, we applaud the OPCW’s leadership, the Technical Secretariat, and the credible, objective, and professional manner in which it carries out its mission. The OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team has diligently carried out the work of its mandate, and we look forward to its future reports.

In response to the Investigation and Identification Team’s past findings of Syrian chemical weapons use, the OPCW Executive Council adopted a decision in July 2020 requesting that Syria take measures to redress the situation. In October 2020 at the OPCW, and just last month in a briefing to the Council, OPCW Director-General Arias informed us that Syria failed to complete any of the measures set forth in the July OPCW Executive Council decision. This was sadly, of course, unsurprising, but the world is still waiting for Syria to complete these measures.

So we continue to call upon the Conference of the States Parties of the OPCW to take appropriate action when its current session reconvenes this spring, and to send a strong message to the Assad regime that the use of chemical weapons, in direct contravention of the Chemical Weapons Convention obligations, has consequences.

The United States, along with 45 co-sponsors from countries around the globe, submitted a draft decision to the OPCW Conference of the States Parties in response to Syria’s brazen and repeated violation of its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and its failure to fulfill the measures that were requested by the Executive Council in July. We, as Council members, must call on all countries to support this decision aimed at promoting accountability for the Assad regime’s actions.

Over the past several months, we have seen Russia accelerate its public campaign to discredit the OPCW and its work. But neither this Council nor the world is fooled. One can say a thing, I think, loudly and repeatedly, but that does not make it true.

What is true is that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. The OPCW has demonstrated this credibly and objectively, corroborating the findings of countless Syrian and international human rights groups and other documenting organizations. We urge Russia and the Assad regime’s other defenders to encourage Syria to come clean about its chemical weapons use and its current chemical weapons stocks.

The United States continues to support the work of the OPCW to rid the world of the threat and the scourge of chemical weapons. It is time for the Assad regime to uphold its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention. It is time for accountability for the Assad regime’s past crimes. And it is time that the Syrian people, and indeed all the globe’s people, be allowed to live in a world free of the threat of chemical weapons.

Thank you, Mr. President.