Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 6, 2021
Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, High Representative Nakamitsu, for your briefing today.
The United States strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons anywhere, anytime, and by anyone. These are weapons of mass destruction, and their use by any state constitutes an unacceptable threat to every state.
This week we recall two tragic chemical weapons attacks in Syria. On April 4, 2017, the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons on the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib governorate, killing Syrian children, women, and men. One year later, on April 7, 2018, in the city of Douma, the Assad regime again used these horrific, horrific banned weapons on innocent people.
Unfortunately, the chemical weapons attacks in Khan Shaykhoun and Douma were not the only ones. They represent a pattern. They represent a pattern of use and abuse by the Assad regime. The regime then tries to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations and failing to cooperate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to defend the Assad regime without reservation. It does this by spreading disinformation, attacking the integrity and professional work of the OPCW, and impeding the efforts by responsible nations to hold the Assad regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons.
Let me say again that the United States firmly supports the impartial and independent work of the OPCW and its investigative bodies. That includes the Investigation and Identification Team, the Fact-Finding Mission, and the Declaration Assessment Team. We applaud the OPCW’s leadership and the Technical Secretariat for the professional manner in which it carries out its mission.
Because of Russia’s irresponsible and dangerous enablement, the Assad regime continues to flagrantly ignore our calls to fully disclose and verifiably destroy its chemical weapons programs, year after year. Twenty-four consultations. Nearly eight years of engagement. Again, and again, and again, independent experts have identified significant gaps, inconsistencies, and discrepancies in Syria’s declarations.
Recently, the Declaration Assessment Team discovered nerve agent weapons activity occurred at yet another facility the regime had declared as never having produced or handled chemical weapons. To date, Syria has not declared the exact types and quantities of agents produced at this site in line with its obligations under the Convention, as requested by the Technical Secretariat. These failures of accountability are not exceptions. They have become the rule.
Last month, I recounted the timeline of events that led to us, along with 47 co-sponsors representing nearly every region of the world, submitting a strong and serious draft decision to OPCW Conference of the States Parties. This month, the OPCW Conference of States Parties convenes. We call upon them to take the necessary and appropriate actions to send a strong message to the Assad regime that the use of chemical weapons is simply unacceptable and comes with grave consequences.
This conference is of the utmost importance. The credibility of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and this very Council, is at stake. After all, it was this Council in 2013 that declared that the Assad regime shall not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, or retain chemical weapons. The Council further decided that the Assad regime must cooperate fully with the OPCW and the UN. So, we urge the States Parties to take decisive action. Vote in favor of the proposed decision. Suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under the Convention until it completes the measures set forth in the July 2020 Executive Council decision.
Sometimes, with all of these declarations, and decisions, and resolutions, it abstracts away from why we feel so strongly about this. And I would remind everyone of what Dr. Amani Ballour told us last week. In her many years in Syria, treating the most horrific wounds and staring death in the face on a daily basis, she said the worst night of her life was when she arrived at a hospital where children were suffocating after being exposed to sarin. Hundreds of innocent people dying before her eyes.
The women and children of Syria are waiting. They know the Security Council has said that chemical weapons attacks are unacceptable. They know we have the power to hold the Assad regime accountable. So, let us act. And let us show them that we are worthy of our charge.