Thank you, Mr. President.
Russia has convened us with almost no notice and then put forth a proposal that they hope will distract from a new French initiative to hold accountable those who use chemical weapons. Today, Russia is yet doing what it does best when it comes to chemical weapons. Russia is running from the facts.
Russia has the audacity to lecture this Security Council about how to stop the use of chemical weapons. I know I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. In the past year, Russia used its veto three times – three times – to kill the Joint Investigative Mechanism in Syria. Russia, all on its own, killed the mechanism we had specifically tasked to identify those responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria. Russia should look in the mirror before bringing us into the Security Council to talk about chemical weapons.
Earlier this week, we received yet another report that the Assad regime has used chlorine gas against its own people. Dozens of civilians had to be treated for suffocation. Syrian children were literally gasping for breath as chlorine gas surrounded them. Of course, it’s no coincidence that this week’s chlorine gas attack reportedly happened in the exact place the Assad regime is trying to take over militarily. We know the Assad regime resorts to these brutal tactics when they want to re-take territory, without any regard for innocent civilians.
And we know that for years Russia has looked the other way while their Syrian friends use these despicable weapons of war. Russia is complicit in the Assad regime’s atrocities. Will the Russian Federation say anything at all today about the suffering caused by Assad’s barbaric tactics? Will they hold Assad to account? Of course not. They never do.
So it’s fitting Russia brought us here the same day that a new initiative on chemical weapons accountability was introduced in Paris. Today, France launched the International Partnership Against Impunity for Chemical Weapons. We strongly support this effort, and we commend France for their leadership. More than 25 like-minded countries have come together to share information on who used chemical weapons and to preserve that information to make sure that perpetrators will be held accountable.
Make no mistake. The United States will continue to pursue, along with this Council, those who have used chemical weapons to ensure that they are held accountable for their atrocities.
Russia says they have concerns with this French initiative to share evidence of chemical weapons use. That is no surprise. Russia opposed the Joint Investigative Mechanism because it collected facts about who used chemical weapons in Syria. Now, Russia questions this French effort to collect facts on who used chemical weapons. What can we conclude? Simply put, when Russia doesn’t like the facts, they try and distract the conversation. That’s because the facts come back over and over again to the truth Russia wants to hide: that the Assad regime continues to use chemical weapons against its own people.
Once again, Russia today threw around lots of different accusations. Again, that’s not surprising. Russia often puts out misleading and unfounded claims to confuse the conversation about chemical weapons. In fact, this happens so often that we recently wrote to the Security Council with a detailed assessment of Russia’s misleading claims. The letter is public and available for anyone to see. We encourage everyone to take a look at it for yourselves.
Here’s the bottom line. The Security Council gave the Joint Investigative Mechanism a mandate to tell us who used chemical weapons in Syria. When investigators found ISIS to be responsible, Russia was fine. When the investigators found that the Assad regime used them, Russia tried to find any excuse to poke holes in the investigation and threw up smoke to question the findings. But that is not how independent investigations work. You don’t get to question the findings when they don’t go your way.
So we’re not going to accept any Russian proposal that undermines our ability to get to the truth or that politicizes what must be an independent and impartial investigation. If they want to work in good faith toward that goal, we are ready to re-establish the JIM, with its original independent and impartial mandate, right now. But anything less is unacceptable.
To be crystal clear, the United States supports accountability for anyone who uses chemical weapons. We agree with Russia that ISIS must be held accountable for their use of these weapons, as the Joint Investigative Mechanism has found. But the difference between the United States and Russia is that we believe no one should be let off the hook. Chemical weapons must never be used.
So Russia can continue to talk for as long as they want about chemical weapons. They can bring this up in the Security Council chamber as often as they want. We welcome the debate.
The United States and the international community are not going to be fooled. We remain steadfast in pursuing accountability for those who use chemical weapons. We stand strong in doing all that we can to preserve the norm against their use. And we remain forever committed to preserving the truth of what the Assad regime has done in Syria and, sadly, what they will likely continue to do.