Syria Chemical Weapons Briefing
Tomorrow (8 January), Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the joint mission of the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), will brief Council members in consultations on the third monthly report (S/2013/774) on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Kaag last briefed Council members on 4 December 2013 on the preparations for removing critical chemical agents from Syria by 31 December. At that time, Council members were also given a broad outline of the plan which includes Syria transporting priority one chemicals to Latakia port in armoured vehicles provided by Russia. At the port, the chemicals will be loaded on vessels provided by Denmark and Norway and shipped to a “trans-loading port” in Italy where the materiel will be shifted to a US ship for destruction. Kaag warned that the volatile and unpredictable security conditions in Syria could derail the mission’s deadlines. By the end of the year, the Syrian government had missed the 31 December deadline for removing priority one chemical agents from Syria.
Tomorrow’s briefing is expected to be largely technical in nature focusing on Phase III destruction activities. Council members are likely to be interested in receiving a further explanation of why the 31 December deadline was missed and hearing about progress made since then. Today, Kaag said that Syria had transferred an initial tranche of chemicals to Latakia and encouraged the government to continue its cooperation in a safe and timely manner. Council members will also likely want more detailed information on Syria’s plans to move remaining priority chemicals to Latakia and a revised timeline for completion of this aspect of destruction activities. Council members will also be interested in how this initial delay might impact the final deadline of 30 June for the complete removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme.
Council members are also likely to want an update on whether the status of mission agreement (SOMA) between the OPCW-UN Joint Mission and Syria has been signed. If it has not yet been signed, some Council members may want Kaag’s assessment of whether this indicates a certain level of non-compliance by Syria in implementing resolution 2118. However, at this juncture most Council members agree the OPCW is the best forum to find solutions for these concerns and are not yet overly concerned by a small delay in the removal of priority one chemicals, given recent progress in this regard, due to the harsh security conditions in Syria.
Council members were also briefed on 16 December by the Secretary-General on the final report of a UN team led by Ake Sellström that included the results of the investigation into seven allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria. There were rather heated exchanges during these consultations as the report reiterated that there was convincing evidence that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale in Ghouta on 21 August with detailed information on delivery systems which point to government culpability. However, it is unlikely that there will be any follow-up action from the Security Council.
Unlike the Sellström report, dynamics around the OPCW-UN Joint Mission are not highly divisive in the Council. Most of the issues are largely technical in nature, and with a vested interest by both Russia and the US to see the mission succeed, it is unlikely that the Council will need to address the issue in any substantive way so long as implementation remains largely on track.
Besides tomorrow’s briefing, there are a number of other Syria-related events in January. The next monthly report by the OPCW-UN Joint Mission is due on 27 January, but will most likely be taken up by the Council in February. Luxembourg and the UK are planning an Arria formula meeting on 17 January focusing on women’s participation in the Syrian transition process. Council members will also closely follow preparations for the 22 January Geneva II peace talks and implementation of the presidential statement on humanitarian access (S/PRST/2013/15). Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos may also brief Council members in late January or early February following her visit to the region, including Syria.