Syria: OPCW-UN Joint Mission Concludes, Work Remains
Tuesday (7 October), Sigrid Kaag, the former Special Coordinator of the recently concluded joint mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN, will brief Council members in consultations via video-teleconference. She will present the twelfth monthly report (S/2014/706) on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Council members expect Tuesday’s briefing to focus on the successor arrangements to the OPCW-UN Joint Mission since it ended on 30 September. The OPCW, with logistical support from the UN Office for Project Services, will undertake the remaining tasks in implementation of resolution 2118, such as the verification of the ongoing destruction of chemicals outside Syria, the destruction of chemical weapons production facilities and the clarification of the declared chemical weapons stockpile. The Secretary-General will continue to submit monthly written reports and Kaag will continue, at least in the near term, to liaise with Damascus in a “good offices” capacity. One question that may come up in Tuesday’s consultations is whether Kaag will continue to brief on a monthly basis; most Council members expect that she will.
Council members will be particularly interested in an update from Kaag on the destruction plans for chemical weapons production facilities in Syria—in particular the three additional facilities only disclosed by Syria to the OPCW on 17 September.
Both the UN Secretary-General and the OPCW Director-General issued statements at the end of the Joint Mission’s work, praising its extraordinary work. It is unclear whether the Security Council will be able to issue a similar statement, as there are still some divisions on the chemical weapons track. On the one hand, Council members share the assessment that Kaag and the Joint Mission achieved remarkable outcomes. On the other hand, some Council members may want to hold off on issuing any statement when there are outstanding government obligations—in particular a full declaration of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and the destruction of chemical weapons production facilities which should have been completed in March. (A similar dynamic was in play last summer when Russia circulated a draft press statement on 23 June welcoming the final removal of chemicals from Syria 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.)
When Kaag last briefed on 4 September, many Council members exhibited an interest in keeping a reporting line open to the Council regarding the use of chlorine bombs. The issue is likely to be raised again on Tuesday, with Council members seeking more information on the 10 September report from the OPCW fact-finding mission that found evidence that chlorine bombs had been used consistently and repeatedly. There was compelling evidence indicating that helicopters delivered these bombs, and only the government has aerial capacity. The US has said these reports raise serious questions about Syria’s obligations under resolution 2118 and the Chemical Weapons Convention, whereas Russia has argued that the OPCW at The Hague, and not the Security Council, would be the appropriate arena to address any alleged breaches of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Looking forward, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang will brief on the humanitarian track in late October and Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will likely brief in late October or early November on his efforts to revive the political track.