Ambassador Richard Mills
Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 11, 2020
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Director-General Arias and High Representative Nakamitsu for your briefings, which were professional as always.
We welcome the opportunity for the Security Council to hear directly from Director-General Arias, and to engage in a transparent and open discussion about the Syrian regime’s abhorrent use of chemical weapons against its own people, its refusal to fully declare and destroy its chemical weapons program, and its continued flouting of its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Given the comments of our Russian colleague that proceeded my own, I need to begin by saying, the United States strongly supports the leadership and the impartial and independent work of the OPCW. We applaud the OPCW Technical Secretariat. We believe it conducts its work in a professional manner and carries out its mission in accordance with the international standards the international community expects. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised additional hurdles for the OPCW, yet it has found ways to continue its important work and to investigate when these incidents of chemical weapons use take place, and assist States Parties when asked to do so.
The Assad regime’s violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention go far beyond its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile: they also include the barbaric use of these weapons against the Syrian people, including women and children, throughout the protracted civil war. We must not allow these types of attacks to be normalized, nor become numb to the depravity of the Assad regime. The United States condemns in the strongest terms the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Assad’s chemical weapons attacks are just, tragically, one example of the atrocities he has committed and continues to inflict on the Syrian people.
The OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team, the IIT, has diligently and professionally, in our view, carried out the work of its mandate, and in April, the IIT’s first report concluded the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for three chemical weapons attacks in March 2017 in Ltamenah, Syria, two sarin attacks and one chlorine attack, affecting over 100 Syrian people. The victims of sarin exposure can experience horrific symptoms, from blurred vision and difficulty breathing to convulsions and respiratory failure, and eventually to death. Unfortunately, the IIT’s findings were not surprising given the Assad regime’s repeated and well-documented history of chemical weapons use.
In response to the IIT’s findings, the OPCW Executive Council took action and adopted a decision in July requesting that Syria take measures to redress the situation. This decision received support from more than two-thirds of the Executive Council, including members from all OPCW regional groups. On October 14, Director-General Arias shared a report with the Security Council informing that Syria – unsurprisingly – failed to complete any of the measures set forth in the July OPCW Executive Council decision.
The United States strongly supports providing the highly professional and hardworking staff of the OPCW’s investigative and attribution mechanisms, such as the IIT, with the means and the resources they need to fulfill the mission entrusted to them. We congratulate the Director-General on the overwhelming adoption of the budget at the recent Conference of the States Parties so the Organization can continue its important work to uphold the norm against chemical weapons use.
Chemical weapons pose a security threat to all states, and when they are used, the members of the Security Council must never remain silent about such inhumane and reprehensible acts, nor treat such acts with impunity. This Council has a solemn responsibility to ensure that there are serious consequences for the perpetrators of these heinous attacks. Unfortunately, Russia and other members of the Security Council would prefer to support their friend Bashar Al Assad and block all action, rather than fulfill the Council’s central responsibility to promote international peace and security.
It is incumbent upon the Security Council to take steps to hold Syria accountable for its use of chemical weapons, and hold Syria to its obligations under Resolution 2118. Syria must also uphold its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and we call upon the Conference of the States Parties of the OPCW to take appropriate action when its session reconvenes in the spring to send a strong message to the Assad regime that its actions have consequences.
To that end, the United States, along with 45 co-sponsors with broad geographic representation, submitted a draft decision to the OPCW Conference of the States Parties in response to Syria’s brazen violation of its obligations under the Convention and its failure to fulfill the measures set forth in the July Executive Council decision. We call on all countries to support this decision aimed at holding Syria accountable for its actions.
We urge the Assad regime’s enablers, particularly Russia, to encourage Syria to come clean about its chemical weapons use and current chemical weapons stocks. We continue to support all efforts for accountability, not just to provide justice to the victims and the families who have suffered as a result of these heinous chemical weapons attacks, but to support the broader political process, as called for in Resolution 2254, to bring peace and stability to Syria and the Syrian people.
In conclusion, Mr. President, we continue to support the work of the OPCW, its leadership, and experts as they work to rid the world of the risk and scourge of chemical weapons. We laud the OPCW’s professionalism and integrity in undertaking this important and solemn task.