Syria Chemical Weapons Briefing
Tomorrow (5 March), 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 fifth monthly report (S/2014/133) on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Kaag last briefed Council members on 6 February, reporting that the 5 February deadline for the removal of the entire chemical weapons stockpile was missed, but that the final deadline of 30 June was achievable and that Syria had the means necessary to proceed without delay. At that time, the US had drafted a press statement calling on Syria to immediately comply with its obligations under resolution 2118, however, Russia objected. Instead, agreed “elements to the press” were read out, in which Council members noted growing concern about the slow pace of removal and called upon Syria to expedite the process. Council members underlined Syria’s responsibility in this regard and said they remained committed to the 30 June deadline and would closely monitor compliance with resolution 2118.
The most recent report of the joint mission, circulated on 26 February, reiterated that two intermediate deadlines of 31 December and 5 February for removal of chemical weapons material from Syria were missed, placing the elimination programme behind schedule. The report concluded that Syria is expected to uphold its commitments to systematic, consistent and volume-based transport of chemical weapons for destruction outside of the country.
On 21 February, Syria provided a revised timeline that requested an extension to the end of May for removal despite the OPCW assessment that Syria had adequate means to act immediately. This was not acceptable to the OPCW and a late April target was agreed to instead.
Council members are expecting a more positive briefing from Kaag tomorrow, compared to her January and February reports. It seems Kaag considers the revised agreement with Syria on a timeline as significant progress and is still projecting that the 30 June deadline can be met. However, many Council members believe the delays will have more impact on the mid-year completion date than indicated by the report or Kaag in her public remarks. They will be interested in a frank appraisal on how far inaction by Syria has placed the operation behind schedule.
A few Council members are speculating that the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme may drag out towards the end of the year. However, there is no active discussion among Council members on imposing measures under Chapter VII for non-compliance with resolution 2118. Tomorrow the main issue for many Council members in conveying their concerns to Kaag will be how to acknowledge the limited progress made while pushing for accelerated movement of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile outside of the country.
Kaag said on 4 March that, to date, nearly a third of chemical weapons material had been removed from Syria or destroyed in country. The OPCW has reported four transfers outside of Syria on 7 and 27 January and 10 and 26 February. According to media reports, these four batches represent 17 percent of the total arsenal, but only a small percentage of the most toxic, priority-one chemicals. Some Council members have raised questions about the timing of these transfers as they all seem to be linked to Syria-related discussions in New York or Geneva. Council members are concerned that these transfers reflect small gestures made by Syria in order to buy time and deflect pressure or criticism at critical junctures rather than being indicative of sincere engagement and cooperation.
Besides tomorrow’s briefing, the next key moment for Council members on Syria will be 13 March, when UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi will brief on the two rounds of Geneva II peace talks held in January and February and on whether a third round of talks is feasible. Humanitarian chief Valerie Amos will brief Council members in consultations on 28 March on the first monthly report on the implementation of resolution 2139 on humanitarian access.
Separately, it seems that yesterday (3 March) Russia revived its initiative to introduce a text focusing on terrorism in Syria. At press time, it seemed the P5 might meet to discuss the proposed text but it was unclear whether the initiative would gain traction.