Syria Chemical Weapons Briefing
Tomorrow (6 February), 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 fourth monthly report (S/2014/52) on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. At press time, it seemed the P5 were discussing a draft press statement presented by the US which calls on Syria to immediately comply with its obligations under resolution 2118. It seems that if Russia and the US agree on the draft text it will be shared with the broader Council.
The most recent report of the joint mission, circulated on 27 January, says that Syria has sufficient material and equipment to carry out its obligations under resolution 2118 but criticised the slow pace of removal. Council members are aware that resolution 2118 also decided to impose measures under Chapter VII in the event of non-compliance and some members may be interested in a discussion on whether inaction by Syria has placed the operation behind schedule.
Council members expect that Kaag will reiterate many of the key messages from her 8 January briefing. At that time, she reported that the 31 December 2013 deadline for removing priority-one chemicals was missed, though Syria did transfer an initial tranche on 7 January. She told Council members that the first movement of chemicals must not be a symbolic action, and that the government should continue its cooperation in a safe and timely manner. Kaag also reported that Syria continued to request security equipment despite consistent advice that such “dual use” equipment would not be procured by the mission. Finally, Kaag said she expected that the 30 June deadline for the complete removal and destruction of the chemical weapons programme would be met and encouraged key member states to continue to exert pressure on Syria to fulfill its obligations.
On 16 January, the OPCW said that various deadlines were not likely to be met due to security concerns and bureaucratic delays. Such concerns were conveyed directly to the Secretary-General on 18 January and both the UN and the OPCW announced that the removal process needed to pick up pace. The OPCW reported a second cargo transfer on 27 January. According to media reports, the 7 and 27 January batches represent only 4 to 5 percent of the total arsenal.
Given these developments, Council members are likely to be interested in receiving a further explanation of how missing today’s deadline for the removal of the entire stockpile will impact the 31 March deadline for destruction and the final deadline of 30 June for the completion of all activities. They will also likely want information on any revised timeline and, in particular, on whether the Syrian government has provided its own promised timeline for removal.
Many Council members expect tomorrow’s briefing to be more contentious than in previous months due to the slow progress and potentially difficult discussions over how the Council should respond. Both Russia and the US have a vested interest in seeing the mission succeed, though they likely have a different perspective on how the Council can exert pressure to ensure compliance.
On 30 January, the US said Syria was deliberately stalling the removal of its chemical weapons, and that it had reneged on a pledge to destroy 12 facilities while continuing to demand additional security equipment. Other Council members have expressed concern that the government has delayed its cooperation on the chemical weapons track in order to gain leverage on the political track during the Geneva II peace talks held between 22-31 January. Russia on the other hand appears confident that Syria will comply with its deadlines. On 4 February, Russia said Syria would remove its entire stockpile by 1 March and that it would attend the next round of Geneva II talks slated to begin on 10 February.
Council members are sympathetic to the very real security challenges in Syria. (The government has claimed two chemical weapon storage sites were attacked by armed rebels in early January, but that could not be independently verified by the OPCW.) However, Kaag’s last briefing indicated a certain wariness regarding Syria’s cooperation and Council members are expecting that skepticism to be amplified tomorrow. Many Council members’ patience for the security argument will wane if they perceive that “bureaucratic delays” on the part of the government are impeding progress. Furthermore, many Council members are becoming increasingly uncomfortable that the level of violence has only escalated since the agreement on chemical weapons was inked in September 2013 and that what seemed to be a watershed moment is proving illusory.
Many Council members are coming to the conclusion that the Syrian government’s limited implementation of its obligations on both the humanitarian and chemical weapons tracks is a tactic to buy time. In that regard, members may want Kaag’s assessment of whether these delays indicate a certain level of non-compliance by Syria in implementing resolution 2118.
Besides tomorrow’s briefing, Council members will also be closely following preparations for the next round of Geneva II peace talks and implementation of the 2 October 2013 presidential statement on humanitarian access (S/PRST/2013/15). Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos will brief Council members in consultations on 13 February. Amos’s assessment of the degree to which parties are complying with the presidential statement is likely to inform Council members as to whether or not to pursue a resolution on humanitarian access, currently in the works by the UK with important inputs from France and the US, along with Australia and Luxembourg and Jordan on behalf of the Arab Group.