What's In Blue

Posted Wed 8 Jul 2015

Syria Chemical Weapons Briefing

Tomorrow afternoon (9 July), Acting UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-soo will brief Security Council members on the monthly report (S/2015/485) on the implementation of resolution 2118, which required the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Council members expect that allegations of the government’s use of chlorine bombs against civilians will be raised in the consultations, as has been the case since the 16 March Sarmin attacks that occurred only 10 days after the adoption of resolution 2209, which condemned the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine and threatened sanctions.
Many Council members are curious about whether there will be any discussion of a US draft resolution on an attribution mechanism to determine who is responsible for such attacks. The idea for an attribution mechanism was raised publicly by the US on 16 April following a closed Arria-formula meeting on chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Since that time, the draft resolution has been negotiated among the P5 and, for a short period of time, bilaterally between Russia and the US. Many elected Council members expect that the draft might be shared with the broader membership quite soon.

Kim visited the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in early July. Keeping in mind the possibility of some action on this issue, Council members will be interested in an update on what he learned from his visit about the OPCW fact-finding mission’s recent investigation of claims of chemical weapons use by both the opposition and the government. In particular, they will be keen to hear from Kim when the findings of the OPCW fact-finding mission will be transmitted to the Council. (Some members have speculated that the next fact-finding mission report will reach the Council by late summer.)

Regarding the work of the OPCW to implement resolution 2118, Kim is expected to report that destruction activity is proceeding as smoothly as possible given the security situation. Many Council members have noted that the new Acting UN High Representative has transmitted useful information regarding OPCW proceedings to them. In that context, there is an expectation that Kim will include in his briefing information on the work of the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team and that Team’s continued discovery of gaps in Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile. The fifth status report by the Declaration Assessment Team is currently being considered by the OPCW Executive Council, and in the report Kim will present tomorrow, the UN Secretary-General said that he looks forward to receiving the results of the Assessment Team’s work. Some Council members may want Kim to clarify whether the Secretary-General will transmit those findings to the Council in his regular 2118 monthly reporting cycle.

At press time, it seemed months of P5 negotiations on a draft resolution to follow-up resolution 2209 may have bridged some of the fundamental differences between Council members on the chemical weapons track. The US views resolution 2209 as a final warning to Damascus before there are consequences for its use of chlorine bombs. Russia insists that the Council cannot attribute blame to Damascus since only the OPCW has the capacity to fully assess the situation. It has further argued that follow-up measures are unacceptable without an attempt to prove that the allegations are true. Other Council members have observed that “proof” would be a difficult litmus test to meet since the OPCW fact-finding mission is specifically prohibited from attributing blame, which is why there is broad support among Council members for a mechanism to determine responsibility. It seems differences between Russia and the US may have been overcome through language which reflects that the Council would seek the OPCW’s expertise to determine the use of chemical weapons, while maintaining the primacy of the Council follow-up on accountability for such use.

Aside from the divisive Council dynamics, many Council members have observed that another complicating factor is that the US has been hesitant to move forward swiftly on any Syria initiative in the Council in deference to the on-going talks on the Iran nuclear file in Vienna. This has not only impacted the chemical weapons track but also put into a holding pattern the French initiative on indiscriminate attacks on civilians, as well as the proposal by the humanitarian leads—Jordan, New Zealand and Spain—for the Council to focus on besieged communities.

Looking ahead, on the political track, Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura will brief the Council on 28 July on the results of the Geneva consultations that began in early May. OCHA head Stephen O’Brien will brief the Council on 29 July on the humanitarian situation.

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