Syria: Informal Interactive Dialogue on Chemical Weapons
Tomorrow (20 March), at the initiative of the Netherlands, Council members are expected to hold an informal interactive dialogue on chemical weapons in Syria with the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, and the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Üzümcü.
The meeting takes place as reports regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria continue. In addition to alleged attacks in January, at least three additional ones reportedly took place in February. Chemical weapons have also allegedly been used in the town of Hamouriya in Eastern Ghouta this month. Since the Council failed to renew the mandate of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) in November 2017, the Council has seen its role limited to receiving monthly OPCW reports together with briefings by Nakamitsu. The OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission continues to report to the Council its determinations as to whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals have been used in Syria. However, its mandate does not include assigning responsibility for alleged attacks, which had been the mandate of the now defunct JIM. The informal interactive dialogue is an attempt to reinforce the interaction between Council members and the OPCW.
Among the issues that Nakamitsu and Üzümcü are expected to raise is the limited cooperation of the Syrian government with the OPCW. A 23 February report of the OPCW, conveyed to the Council on 1 March (S/2018/182), raised concerns regarding the limited cooperation of the Syrian government in addressing the gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies identified by the OPCW in Syria’s initial declaration. Council members are also expected to be briefed on the arrangements currently being negotiated by the OPCW and the UN Office for Project Services with the Syrian government for the planned destruction of two stationary above-ground chemical weapons production facilities, and how this process would unfold.
The polarisation among Council members on the issue of chemical weapons continues. On 23 January, France convened the first meeting of an international partnership against impunity for the use of chemical weapons in Paris. A declaration of principles was signed by the 24 member states (including Council members Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland and Sweden, in addition to the P3) which comprise the partnership. Also on 23 January, Russia circulated a draft resolution to establish a new investigation mechanism to replace the JIM. Even though Council members met twice to discuss the draft, Russia did not modify the draft to address any of the issues raised by other Council members and put the draft in blue in early March, although a vote on this has yet to be scheduled. The US has held several meetings with Council members on an alternative draft. Given current Council dynamics, it does not seem that either of these drafts could be adopted.