Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 10, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President, and I thank High Representative Nakamitsu, for her briefing.
In 2013, this Council adopted Resolution 2118 welcoming the Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons. That Framework expressed the U.S. and Russian determination to “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 chemical weapons material and equipment.
Unfortunately, though, since the adoption of Resolution 2118, the Assad regime has used chemical weapons routinely and indiscriminately to instill fear and force any opposing populations to its knees. 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. The regime’s failure to comply with its international obligations related to the use of chemical weapons – including those obligations it undertook when it voluntarily became a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention and those obligations which are binding on Syria under Resolution 2118 – poses a direct threat to the Syrian people and the prospect for a political resolution to the conflict in line with UN Security Resolution 2254.
As we have stated previously, the United States expresses its unequivocal condemnation of the use of chemical weapons, in Syria or anywhere else. This Council must act to enforce Resolution 2118 – and step up to reinforce the norm against the use of chemical weapons to ensure that those who have used them are held to account.
This is the third opportunity for this Council to discuss the tragic and callous use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime since the OPCW adopted its decision to hold the regime accountable based on the damning findings of the Investigation and Identification Team.
We will continue to shine a light on these horrible events as the conflict in Syria has brought immeasurable suffering to the Syrian people. Over the past ten years, the Syrian people have experienced horrific atrocities, some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the repeated use of chemical weapons. The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of these weapons of mass destruction. This Council cannot tolerate the use of such weapons, and we must ensure that those responsible face serious consequences.
The Assad regime’s failure to comply with its international obligations related to the use of chemical weapons poses a direct threat to the international community. Consistent with the OPCW’s July decision, the Assad regime must cease its use of chemical weapons and fully cooperate with the OPCW, including its Investigation and Identification Team.
Let’s ensure everyone is reminded of the seriousness in what we are discussing today. On August 21, 2013, the Syrian regime launched a horrific chemical attack with the nerve agent sarin on the opposition-controlled suburb of Ghouta in Damascus – leaving more than 1,400 Syrians dead, many of them children. Last month marked the seventh anniversary of this attack, and on that date the world remembered the many lives lost and the need to continue to stand against such cruel disregard for the international norms against the use of chemicals as weapons.
But again, let’s remember that these are real people we’re talking about. Real women, men, and children. Do you know what Sarin does to a human body? An article in the Atlantic from 2013 laid it out clearly. “The nose runs, the eyes cry, the mouth drools and vomits, and bowels and bladder evacuate themselves…Since sarin has no taste or smell, the person may very well have no idea what’s going on. Their chest tightens, vision blurs. If the exposure was great enough, that can progress to convulsions, paralysis, and death within 1 to 10 minutes.” A painful, quick, and undignified death. That’s what Assad submitted his own people to in 2013.
Since 2013, the Syrian regime has continued to demonstrate blatant disregard for its international obligations by repeatedly carrying out chemical weapons attacks. The OPCW Investigation and Identification Team report, issued on April 8 of this year, concluded that the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for carrying out three chemical weapons attacks in late March 2017, two sarin attacks and one chlorine attack, affecting over 100 people. The attacks took place just days before the attack on the nearby Khan Shaykhun in April 2017 that killed dozens of people. The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism found the Assad regime was also responsible for the Khan Shaykhun attack.
The United States remains committed to a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure to deny the Assad regime the revenue and support it uses to bypass a UN-facilitated political settlement to the conflict by committing mass atrocities against the Syrian people. We reject the Assad regime’s efforts to use such atrocities to silence its people’s calls for reform and change. Last week, we continued our sanctions campaign against Assad’s corrupt and brutal regime. These new sanctions memorialize the victims of Assad’s chemical weapons attack on Ghouta seven years ago. And we continue to reject any false claim that U.S. sanctions adversely affect humanitarian efforts. We will not stop pressing for accountability and an enduring political solution to the Syrian conflict as called for in Resolution 2254.
Further, we will not stop pressing for Iran to leave Syria. Iran supports the Assad regime as the regime continues to devastate and destroy the lives of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. Syria is one of many countries, like Lebanon, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, where Iran sows chaos and devastation through its proliferation of weapons. Iran’s destabilizing behavior is one of the reasons why we have chosen to trigger the re-imposition of UN sanctions on Iran. We call on our fellow Security Council members to join us in ensuring that Iran does not have access to even more potent weapons to cause even greater destruction.
Mr. President, I also want to say that we are deeply troubled by the findings released by the German government on September 2. Alexei Navalny’s poisoning by a chemical weapon is completely reprehensible, and we condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Any use of chemical weapons, anywhere, anytime, by anybody, under any circumstances whatsoever, is unacceptable and contravenes the international norms prohibiting the use of such weapons.
Russia has used chemical nerve agents from the “Novichok” group in the past. The Russian people have a right to express their views without fear of retribution of any kind. They should certainly not be subjected to chemical agents. Wherever the evidence leads, we will work with allies and the international community to hold perpetrators accountable, including through restricting funds for malign activities.
We call on Russia to be fully transparent and to bring those responsible to justice. We urge Russia to cooperate fully with the international community’s investigation into this latest attack. Those responsible – both those who committed this attack and those who ordered it – must be held accountable.
I’ll say it again – the use of chemical weapons presents an unacceptable security threat to all states, and the members of this Council must not stay silent. We renew our call on the Assad regime to come into compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention without delay and our call on everyone to stop the use of chemical weapons once and for all. The use of chemical weapons, anywhere and at any time, is wrong. We must work as a Council to stop it.
Thank you, Mr. President.