The situation in the Middle East - Security Council, 8943rd meeting
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The situation in the Middle East - Security Council, 8943rd meeting.

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Several Delegates Upset over Obstruction of Technical Experts’ Work, But Damascus Representative Says Government Cooperating with Investigations

Due to persisting gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved, Syria’s declaration of its chemical weapons programme still cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United Nations disarmament chief told the Security Council today, urging that country to cooperate with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) without delay.

Updating the Council on developments over the past month, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu reported that, while Syria has submitted 17 amendments and several supplements to its initial declaration, 20 of the 24 outstanding issues opened by the Declaration Assessment Team in 2014 remain unresolved, involving, among other things, undeclared research, production and/or weaponization of unknown quantities of chemical weapons. “Full cooperation by the Syrian Arab Republic with the OPCW Technical Secretariat is essential to closing these outstanding issues,” she said.

Aside from not submitting the requested declarations, Syria has also not yet responded to requests from OPCW’s Technical Secretariat for information and documentation on the damage caused to the declared former chemical weapons production facility during the 8 June 2021 attack, or information on the unauthorized movement and remains of two destroyed cylinders related to the 7 April 2018 chemical weapon incident in Douma.

The Technical Secretariat’s attempts since April 2021 to schedule the twenty-fifth round of consultations between Syria and the Declaration Assessment Team in Damascus have been stymied by Syria’s continued refusal of an entry visa for one member of the Assessment Team, she said, adding that its efforts to convene a meeting with Syrian experts at OPCW Headquarters in The Hague in late October 2021 were also unsuccessful. She urged Syria to allow immediate, unfettered access to the personnel designated by the OPCW Secretariat as soon as possible.

The Technical Secretariat conducted the eighth round of inspections of the Barzah and Jamrayah facilities of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre from 10 to 17 December 2021, the outcome for which will be reported in due course, she said. However, Syria has yet to provide sufficient technical information or explanations that would enable the Technical Secretariat to close the issue concerning the detection of a “Schedule 2” chemical at the Centre’s Barzah facilities in November 2018.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of the Russian Federation said the Syrian chemical weapons dossier was among the most “politicized” dossiers on the Council’s agenda, and “a pain in everyone’s neck”. He described the topic as a fairy tale, stating that it had nothing to do with non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Challenging the credibility of the fact-finding mission’s collection of information in November 2021, he also pointed out that the Declaration Assessment Team’s next round of consultations were postponed by the OPCW Technical Secretariat leadership under a politicized pretext regarding non‑issuance of a visa to a team member, despite Syria’s readiness for their visit. The OPCW Director-General has been invited to Damascus, but refused the invitation, he said, adding that the Russian Federation will invite the Director‑General again to the Council so that he can give clear explanations for pending questions.

The speaker for the United States said that, in its trip to Syria last month, the fact-finding mission collected essential information about the use of chemical weapons in 2017, which should help hold the Syrian authorities accountable. She expressed disappointment that the Technical Secretariat’s ninety-ninth report revealed Syria’s obstruction of OPCW’s work. Pointing out every amendment to Syria’s declaration is the result of OPCW’s work, she noted that Syria has blocked the next round of consultations for the past nine months, and has failed to accept proposed solutions by OPCW. Damascus should fulfil its obligations by granting the Declaration Assessment Team access to its territory, she stressed.

In a similar vein, France’s representative pointed out that Damascus has not issued a visa for one member in a clear determination to obstruct proceedings. The Council is meeting today because Syria used chemical weapons against its own population, he said, stressing: “This is not a fairy tale, but a war crime.” If Syria wishes for its rights to be restored, it must fulfil its obligations. The disinformation campaign against the Technical Secretariat must stop, he said.

Likewise, Ireland’s representative characterized as “unacceptable” Syrian efforts to interfere in the selection of OPCW-designated experts, thus preventing the deployment, emphasizing: “Syria cannot pick and choose which of its legal obligations it is willing to accept.”

Meanwhile, Brazil’s delegate called for trust to be restored between OPCW and Syria, as a fundamental step towards overcoming the regrettable politicization that has undermined the culture of consensus within OPCW and its decision-making bodies. Welcoming recent efforts by the OPCW Director‑General and Syria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates to hold an in-person meeting as a constructive confidence-building approach that paves the way for comprehensive dialogue, he encouraged the Syrian Government to provide full access to the OPCW expert teams, including by issuing the necessary visas.

Taking the floor after Council members, Syria’s representative stated that, since joining the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, his country has cooperated with the United Nations to eliminate its stockpiles and production facilities, a process that was completed in record time, in mid-2014. He rejected the disinformation campaign launched by some Western nations, which have adopted a hostile policy against Syria and created the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team, adding that, as a result, reports by the OPCW Technical Secretariat have become part and parcel of a hostile Western campaign.

Noting that Syria’s Foreign Minister sent a letter to the Technical Secretariat about the inaccurate information contained in these reports, he pointed out that discussions are under way to facilitate a meeting between Syria’s Foreign Minister and the OPCW Director-General. As well, Syria already facilitated 24 rounds of consultations with the Declaration Assessment Team. The fact that two United Nations teams visited Syria within one month further demonstrates the Government’s cooperation with OPCW, he said, rejecting allegations of its obstructionism.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Kenya, Ghana, China, India, Mexico, Gabon, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Albania, Norway, Iran and Turkey.

The meeting began at 3:02 p.m. and ended at 4:44 p.m.