What's In Blue

Briefing on Syria Chemical Weapons: Removal Complete, Verification and Destruction Activities Remain

Monday (7 July), Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Mission, will brief Council members in consultations via video-teleconference. She will present the ninth monthly report (S/2014/444) on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Council members expect Monday’s briefing to focus on the removal of the final 7.2 percent of declared chemical weapons from Syria on 23 June. Council members also expect Kaag to reiterate that other important tasks remain, such as verification work, the destruction of production facilities and clarification of the declared chemical weapons stockpile.

Kaag will also likely provide an update on the 17 June report of the OPCW fact-finding mission to investigate allegations that the regime had used chlorine-filled bombs against civilians. In particular, Council members may want more information on the report’s conclusion that the mission’s review of the evidence supported such allegations.

While Council members expect Monday’s briefing to be pro-forma, there are still some divisions on the chemical weapons track. Russia had circulated a draft press statement on 23 June welcoming the final removal and Syria’s constructive cooperation. The statement was blocked by the US, with the support of several other Council members, given the seemingly deliberate delays by Syria in the pace of removal activity as well as other outstanding government obligations—in particular a full declaration of its chemical weapons arsenal and destruction of the 12 production facilities.

With the final tranche of declared chemicals having left Syria, Council members are unlikely to be interested in doing more than monitoring the remaining activities of the Joint Mission with the monthly reporting cycle to the Security Council expected to continue in the near term. Meanwhile, they will want to hear more from Kaag on the discussions between the Joint Mission and the OPCW Technical Secretariat on successor arrangements.

With the chemical weapons track requiring less attention, Council members appear to be focusing now largely on the humanitarian track. While Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos will only brief the Council on the implementation of resolution 2139 on 30 July, it is likely that a draft resolution on cross-border access may be tabled for consideration and a vote could take place as early as next week.

Humanitarian leads Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg have just completed an intense month of complex negotiations with the P5, in consultation with OCHA, on a draft resolution permitting the UN to carry out cross-border aid operations in Syria without state consent. Following a meeting with the P5 yesterday, when it was expected that the Russian delegation would have instructions from Moscow regarding a possible compromise, Council members are cautiously optimistic that a draft resolution will soon be circulated to the wider membership.

Separately, on 27 June Russia also circulated a draft presidential statement on illicit oil trade as a source of revenue for terrorists in Syria. An expert level meeting was held Tuesday afternoon where it seemed no Council member objected in principle to the importance of the issue. However, there were suggestions by the P3 and other Council members that the draft was too narrow in scope and would be more beneficial if it focused on the financing of al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham—two groups operating in both Iraq and Syria and that are listed under the 1267/1989 Al-Qaida sanctions regime—versus a country-specific approach. It is unclear when, or if, Russia will circulate a revised text. While this draft has not directly impacted negotiations on the humanitarian track, some Council members have questioned the timing since it was circulated the same day that the humanitarian leads and the P3 had informed Russia that their flexibility on state consent was exhausted.

Finally, Council members are also tentatively planning to hold an Arria-formula meeting later in the month with the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria on testimonies it has collected on war crimes and crimes against humanity that have taken place in Syria. On the political track, with the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communiqué largely superseded by events on the ground–not the least the 3 June re-election of President Bashar al-Assad–there has been little activity, but Council members will be anticipating the Secretary-General’s announcement of a new Special Representative to succeed Lakhdar Brahimi.

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