What's In Blue

Posted Fri 29 Apr 2022

Syria (Chemical Weapons): Briefing and Consultations*

This morning (29 April) the Security Council is expected to hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the Syria chemical weapons track. The meeting is the regular monthly meeting on the implementation of resolution 2118, which was adopted unanimously by the Council in 2013 and requires the verification and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu is the anticipated briefer.

At the time of writing, Council members continued to negotiate a UK-drafted press statement, initially circulated on 27 April, marking today’s 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction. The draft is under silence until 9:30am, and if agreement is reached, it will likely be issued today.

In today’s meeting, Nakamitsu is expected to reiterate, as she has consistently, that gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies remain in Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons stockpiles to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

She is also expected to express her regret that the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) has been unable to hold its 25th round of consultations with Syrian authorities in Damascus, which has been delayed for several months because of the unwillingness of the Syrian government to issue a visa to one member of the DAT. According to the OPCW Director-General’s 25 April report on progress on the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme, the OPCW has proposed a less extensive round of consultations in Lebanon with Syrian authorities; while Syria agreed to such a meeting in an 18 April 2022 note verbale, it has requested that one OPCW expert be excluded from the consultations. Nakamitsu may be able to offer the Council an update on whether and how the OPCW has responded to Syria’s note verbale.

As in several past briefings, Nakamitsu is also likely to speak about two chlorine cylinders related to an incident in Douma on 7 April 2018. Syria has said that these cylinders were destroyed in an attack in June 2021 on a declared former chemical weapons production facility. In his 25 April report, the OPCW Director-General noted that in July 2021 the OPCW had requested the Syrian government to “provide all relevant information regarding the unauthorised movement of the two cylinders and any remains of their destruction”. To date, Syria has not done so.

The Council’s long-standing divisions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria are likely to colour the discussion tomorrow. Over the years, Council members have displayed starkly different views on a range of issues, including who is responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the credibility of the work of the OPCW and numerous procedural aspects of the OPCW’s decision-making bodies. While several members have consistently expressed support for the OPCW’s work, maintaining that it is credible and essential, other members, such as China and Russia, maintain that its work is biased and politicised.

The divisions with respect to Ukraine between the US and European members, on the one hand, and Russia, on the other, may be reflected in some of their interventions today. In this regard, at the latest Council meeting on the chemical weapons track in Syria, which took place on 10 March, Albania and the UK accused Russia of disinformation about chemical weapons in Ukraine, while the US stated that Russia’s “unjustified war…against Ukraine should make clear…that Russia…cannot be trusted when it talks about chemical weapons use in Syria”.  Russia, for its part, urged members not to spread misinformation in the Security Council.

Several members believe that the Council should meet less often than monthly on the Syria chemical weapons file, given that there is little new to discuss each month. Brazil, China, and Russia made this argument in during the 10 March meeting. It is possible that some members may again discuss their concerns about the frequency of these meetings today.

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**Post-script: On 29 April, Council members issued a press statement marking the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (CWC).

The UK circulated a first draft of the text on 27 April and negotiations were conducted via email. In the statement, Council members reaffirmed their commitment to exclude the possibility of the use of chemical weapons “anywhere, at any time by anyone”, as well as to the complete destruction of chemical weapons. They also reaffirmed that the development, production, and use of chemical weapons, as prohibited by the Convention, remain a clear threat to international peace and security.  In addition, based on an amendment proposed by an elected member, the press statement urges all states that have yet to do so to become members of the CWC. (Currently, only four member states—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, Israel, and South Sudan—are not parties to the convention).

In the statement, Council members recognised the OPCW as the organisation given responsibility by state parties of the Convention for its implementation. The initial UK-proposed text expressed Council members’ full support of the OPCW, but this was modified based on a suggestion by Russia.

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