9562nd Meeting (AM)

Syria’s Full Cooperation Essential to Closing Chemical Weapons File, Senior Official Tells Security Council

Non-State Group Found Responsible for 2015 Attacks in Marea

Syria’s full cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is essential to closing all outstanding issues related to its declarations, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, as delegates urged accountability for all perpetrators amid a new finding involving a non-State actor.

Adedeji Ebo, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, reported some progress on Syria’s outstanding issues, but said that Damascus’ declaration on its chemical weapon stockpiles still cannot be considered accurate and complete, given the unresolved identified gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies found in the OPCW Technical Secretariat assessments.

He also detailed the results of the 22 February 2024 report by the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team, which determined that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) deployed sulphur mustard gas during attacks aimed at capturing the town of Marea in September 2015.

Regarding an incident of the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon in al-Yarmouk on 22 October 2017, he reported that the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission concluded in its latest report that the information obtained and analysed was insufficient to provide reasonable grounds to determine that toxic chemicals were used as a weapon in the reported incident.

“The absence of accountability for the use of chemical weapons continues to be a threat to international peace and security,” he stressed, urging the Council to unite on this issue.

In the ensuing debate, several delegates voiced support for OPWC’s work and urged Syria to resolve outstanding issues while others questioned the objectivity of OPCW investigations.  The new finding about the use of chemical weapons by Da’esh has also raised concern about dual-use chemical substances falling into the hands of non-State actors.

The representative of the United States said that the Syrian regime continues to obfuscate and impede the work of OPCW and its various technical teams, noting that the recent findings by the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team heighten concerns that Damascus continues a residual chemical weapons capability.  Rejecting “baseless claims of bias” by some Council members and Syria about OPCW’s work, he said that the Investigation and Identification Team’s report, which found Da’esh responsible for the September 2015 attacks, demonstrates that they can establish facts.

In the same vein, France’s delegate said that the Investigation and Identification Team’s latest report has for the first time established the use of chemical weapons by a non-State actor in Syria, as “the result of considerable investigative work conducted independently and impartially”.  The speaker for Switzerland highlighted his delegation’s “full confidence” in OPCW, stressing that establishing the facts is crucial to ensuring accountability and preventing future attacks.

Echoing this point, the representative of Japan, Council President for March, speaking in his national capacity, commended OPCW’s impartial and independent work.  “It is our shared responsibility to hold accountable those who have used chemical weapons and bring justice to the victims,” he said, strongly opposing any attempt to undermine the invaluable work of the Investigation and Identification Team.

Adding to that, Slovenia’s delegate pointed out that the international investigative bodies have confirmed the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces in nine instances since Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Damascus must destroy any remaining secret caches and fully cooperate with OPCW, he stressed.

Countering those views, Syria’s representative emphasized that his country has fulfilled its obligations, destroyed its entire chemical stockpile and looks forward to cooperating with OPCW to close all outstanding issues — “leading to the final closure of this file”.  He rejected the persistence of the three Western permanent Council members’ use of this file to pressure Damascus and “the double-standards embodied by turning a blind eye to the real threat facing the Middle East” — Israel’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

The discussion of the Syrian chemical file has become a “tired soap opera whose directors are unsuccessfully trying to buoy up long-flagging public interest with absurd, unnatural plot twists,” said the representative of the Russian Federation, insisting that OPCW has long been a platform for Western countries to “advance their narrow mercantile interests”.

Iran’s delegate said that politicizing the application of the Chemical Weapons Convention and exploiting OPCW for political reasons endangers the credibility of both.  Syria continues to uphold its commitments under the Convention and cooperate closely with OPCW, he said, calling on “certain countries” to refrain from making baseless political accusations against Syria or premature judgments before the conclusion of consultations.

China’s representative welcomed recent progress in technical consultations between Syria and OPCW on the initial declaration, urging “continuous constructive cooperation” on the basis of mutual respect to create conditions for the settlement of the Syrian chemical weapons issue.  He urged the OPCW Technical Secretariat to “make tangible efforts to preserve the technical nature of the organization”.

Further on the use of chemical weapons by Da’esh, the representative of the United Kingdom cautioned that regional instability heightens the risk of chemical weapons proliferation to non-State actors, warning that the possibility of further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime or non-State actors “cannot be excluded”.

On that, the representative of Mozambique, also speaking for Algeria, Guyana and Sierra Leone, said: “These findings suggest that, henceforward, the Syrian chemical-weapons programme will be seen in a different perspective.”  He called on Syria to continue collaboration with OPCW to solve the outstanding issues to “definitely close this file”.

Several speakers welcomed the recent round of consultations between the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team and Syria, emphasizing the importance of greater cooperation to resolve the outstanding issues.

Among them was Ecuador’s representative, who said that cooperation between the Declaration Assessment Team and Syrian national authorities is “the best way to achieve positive results”, as well as to ensure accountability and proper compliance with relevant Council resolutions.  Encouraging Syrian authorities to transparently continue such cooperation, he underscored the need for adherence to all obligations established in resolution 1540 (2004).

Malta’s delegate called on Damascus to provide documents to resolve outstanding issues, including scientifically verifiable explanations regarding development at certain sites.  The Republic of Korea’s delegate urged consultations between the Declaration Assessment Team and Syria to move “beyond mere routine meetings”.

Fighting impunity and establishing accountability is essential to prevent the recurrence effectively, stressed the representative of Türkiye.  Whether by the Syrian regime or Da’esh, “the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable under any circumstances”, she declared.

For information media. Not an official record.