Remarks at an Arria-Formula Meeting on Syria Chemical Weapons

Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet
Acting Deputy Permanent Representative
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 20, 2020

AS DELIVERED

Thank you, Ambassador.

The United States categorically objects to Russia’s blatant attempt to use a Security Council meeting to weaken the credibility of the OPCW and its findings on the Douma attack. This is a brazen disinformation campaign, waged in advance of the anticipated release of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team’s first report. It is also one more data point in a consistent pattern of Russian efforts to exploit the platform of the Security Council to further its own political and military agenda in Syria, propping up a murderous dictator at the expense of the Syrian people.

When Russia and Syria dislike the findings of the UN or the OPCW, they use meetings like this one to undercut those organizations and the facts that they provide. We must defend the credibility and the findings of the OPCW and the UN from disinformation. If we fail to directly confront these falsehoods, the international community will be unable to help protect the Syrian people from future chemical weapons used by the Assad regime. We must not forget that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons every year since Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013.

To that end, the United States stands firmly behind the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission’s (FFM) March 1, 2019 report. The FFM found that there are reasonable grounds to conclude that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place. The conclusions of this report also support what the United States and others have said many times before: the Syrian regime is responsible for this heinous attack on April 7 of 2018. But in addition to Douma, we should never forget the horrific nerve agent attack by the regime on Ghouta in 2013, killing over a thousand innocent men, women and children, or the attacks which released toxic substances in Talmenes in 2014, in Sarmin in 2015, and of course, the sarin attack at Khan Shaykhun in 2017, all committed by the Assad regime. These are the facts, full stop.

The independent and impartial work of the OPCW FFM team should be commended. Their investigative work on Douma was professional, thorough and comprehensive. The team conducted a thorough evaluation and analysis of all the information gathered, including testimony and evidence from witnesses, environmental and biomedical samples, and toxicological and ballistic analyses from experts. There is no basis for the Russia and Assad regime to question the validity of the FFM report. The reality is that the regime sought to undermine the investigation by delaying the entry of investigators to Douma, so that Assad can clean up the crime scene and tamper with evidence. In fact, it is Russia and the Assad regime that lack credibility on this issue due to their deliberate and long-running effort to obstruct the work of the inspectors.

We must not forget that Syria has deliberately used chemical weapons as a military tactic to clear civilians and the armed opposition from territory outside of their control, as we have seen in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Sarmin, and Khanh Shaykhun. Once the territory is cleared, Russian forces move in to help the regime forces solidify their control and, meanwhile, use disinformation and diplomacy to try to shield the regime from being held accountable by the international community.

It is unconscionable that, despite the brave efforts undertaken by the OPCW FFM to obtain the information necessary to conduct its investigation, Russia would later call into doubt the results. This is appalling treatment of an organization Russia claimed to support in the Security Council Presidential Statement we adopted, by consensus, just this past November. We must not be fooled by theatrics or meetings designed to sow confusion about whether chemical weapons are being used in Syria, and who is the culprit – it is the Assad regime.

Disinformation and distractions like today’s meeting hosted by the Russian Federation only serve to shield the Assad regime from being held accountable by the international community and perpetuate impunity. Russia has no credibility on the issue of chemical weapons. Not only has Russia assisted the Assad regime in covering up chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but as the Salisbury attack made clear, Russia continues to possess and use chemical weapons itself.

The United States is committed to holding the Assad regime accountable for its chemical weapons attacks as evidenced by our Congress passing the Caesar Act just last month. Accountability and the prevention of further chemical weapons attacks in Syria are central to the Security Council’s efforts to help facilitate a political solution to this conflict in line with Resolution 2254. Accountability to end impunity and prevent future uses are needed to build a new, reformed system of government in Syria that is responsive to the needs and the aspirations of the Syrian people. To do so, we must also ensure that Resolution [2118] is fully implemented so that Assad no longer possesses chemical weapons.

The United States must also take the opportunity to correct the record on the work of the Syrian Civil Defense volunteers, commonly known as the White Helmets. The United States is proud to support the vital, life-saving work of the White Helmets who risk their lives day-in and day-out to rescue their fellow Syrian civilians from attacks by the Syrian and Russian forces. These courageous White Helmets have saved over 100,000 lives – over 100,000 lives since the Syrian conflict began in 2011. These false accusations leveled here today by the Russia Federation and their briefers are false. They are disinformation. And, they are a worrying sign that the Syrian authorities and Russia are continuing to target White Helmets for future attacks.

We call on all members of this Council and the broader membership to reaffirm their support for the Chemical Weapons Convention and the work of the OPCW in the face of baseless attacks by Russia and the Assad regime. We look forward to the fulsome and evidence-based consideration of the IIT Report in this Council in the coming days.

Thank you.

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