Syria Chemical Weapons Consultations
Tomorrow (23 April), Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Sigrid Kaag will brief Council members in consultations via video teleconference on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Tomorrow’s meeting was requested by the US. It appears that some Council members are keen to use this briefing, which will be held in addition to the regular monthly briefing, to maintain pressure on Syria ahead of a fast-approaching removal deadline.
Recent reports indicate that Syria may be on track to meet the 27 April deadline for the removal of all chemical weapons materials. On 19 April, Kaag issued a statement reporting that Syria had removed or destroyed in-country approximately 80 percent of its chemical weapons materiel. Kaag characterised the renewed pace as positive and necessary for ensuring progress towards tight deadlines.
On 23 February, Syria submitted an amended time frame for the removal of all chemicals to the OPCW. According to the new time frame, Syria was given an extension until 27 April for the removal of chemicals located in facilities that were at that time inaccessible. In her last briefing to the Council on 3 April, Kaag warned that any further delay would make it increasingly unrealistic to meet the 30 June deadline for the completion of all removal and destruction activities. Some Council members believe Syria’s delayed implementation has been a tactic to buy time—in particular, until presidential elections are held. Yesterday (21 April), Syria’s parliament announced that the election would be held on 3 June.
Council members will be keen on hearing updates on progress made since Kaag’s 19 April statement and will be looking for an updated assessment of whether or not Syria appears to be likely to meet this new deadline. There is currently no active discussion among Council members about taking further steps in the event of non-compliance. It appears that Council members may wait until the 27 April deadline has passed before considering pursuing any outcome on the issue. In related developments, on 16 April the Syrian Coalition—a coalition of opposition groups in the civil war—sent a letter to the Council urging an immediate investigation into the use of chemical agents on 11 April (S/2014/285), alleging that the Syrian airforce bombarded the opposition-held town of Kafr Zeita, with explosive barrels loaded with chemical and toxic gases. The coalition claims that there were 200 victims of the attacks, the majority of whom were civilians. On 20 April, French President François Hollande said that France had information that government forces had again used toxic gas on opposition targets, and the following day, the US State Department reported that it had indications of the use of a toxic chemical, probably chlorine, in the Kafr Zeita attack and that it is examining indications that the Syrian government was responsible. Syria has acknowledged that casualties from at least two recent attacks showed signs of having been gassed; however, it blamed Islamist rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra for the attacks.
It is likely that concerns regarding these serious new allegations will be raised in tomorrow’s meeting. (A state party to the OPCW would need to make a referral to the OPCW for it to investigate the most recent claim.)
Looking forward on Council engagement on Syria, Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos will brief Council members on 30 April on the implementation of resolution 2139 on humanitarian access in Syria. The next regular briefing by Kaag will follow in early May.