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Briefing on Syria Chemical Weapons: 27 April Deadline Missed

Tomorrow (8 May), Special Coordinator of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Mission Sigrid Kaag will brief Council members in consultations. She will present the seventh monthly report on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Given that Syria missed the extended deadline of 27 April for the complete removal of its declared chemical weapons materiel, Council members are keen to get an assessment of when the remaining chemicals will be shipped out of the country.

Kaag briefed Council members on 3 and 23 April, reporting significant, but not yet complete, removal of declared chemical weapons materiel and warning yet again that further delay would make it increasingly unrealistic to meet the 30 June completion deadline.

As of 27 April, 92.5 percent of declared materiel had been removed or destroyed in-country. Eighteen consignments of chemicals had been shipped out of Syria, representing 96.45 percent of toxic priority-one chemicals and 81.09 percent of less hazardous priority-two chemicals. (The original deadline for the removal of priority-one chemicals was 31 December 2013, and for priority-two chemicals the deadline was 5 February.)

The most recent report on the chemical weapons track (S/2014/300) clarified that the remaining 7.5 percent of declared chemicals are held at one site. Syria claims that it cannot transport these due to the security situation. Council members will be keen to hear from Kaag whether this assessment of security risks is reasonable and whether there has been any indication from the government of when the final shipment of chemicals will leave Syria.

Council members will also want an update from Kaag on the status of the OPCW’s review of the destruction plans for the 12 facilities that were to be destroyed by 15 March. It seems Syria is of the opinion that merely rendering the facilities inoperable would meet destruction criteria, a view not shared by most Council members. Some Council members have raised questions about whether Syria may be holding on to the final tranche of chemicals as a bargaining chip until the issue regarding its chemical weapons production facilities is resolved.

Recently, the P3 have voiced concerns over whether Syria made a full declaration of its chemical weapons arsenal. Syria has submitted amendments to its original 24 October 2013 declaration after inspectors on the ground reported discrepancies. Council members may be looking for an update from Kaag on the OPCW’s on-going work in order to clarify any potential gaps in Syria’s chemical weapons declaration.

Council members also expect that there will be discussion in tomorrow’s consultations regarding allegations that the regime used chlorine-filled bombs against civilians and the OPCW’s subsequent announcement on 29 April that it would deploy a fact-finding mission to investigate the claims. While the fact-finding mission is being conducted outside of the mandate of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, many Council members are likely to want to establish a reporting line back to the Security Council on the results of the investigation.

With serious concerns that removal and destruction deadlines have been repeatedly missed along with discrepancies in Syria’s chemical weapons declaration and allegations of the use of chlorine-filled bombs, it seems several Council members are skeptical about whether the 30 June completion deadline can now be met. These members believe the OPCW-UN Joint Mission will need to continue to play a role past 30 June. Meanwhile, Russia has expressed a strong preference to move the issue out of the Council after 30 June allowing the OPCW to deal with any remaining issues on a purely technical level. It seems likely that this issue will garner intense discussion among Council members over the course of the next two months.

Besides tomorrow’s briefing, the next key moment for Council members on Syria will be 13 May, when UN-Arab League Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi will brief on the failed Geneva talks.

On the humanitarian track, many Council members remain frustrated that access has not appreciably improved since resolution 2139 on humanitarian access was adopted on 22 February. Some Council members continue to speculate that if the 29 May briefing again reports limited progress, this could prompt a move toward a vote on a draft resolution to strengthen the UN’s ability to deliver aid to those in need.

Finally, it seems that France has just shared a draft resolution referring the situation in Syria to the ICC with the P5. France has been working with the US on language that addresses some of the US’s concerns regarding jurisdiction, and it seems the US might now be ready to vote for such a referral.

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