Secretary-General's press encounter on Syria
New York, 3 September 2013
SG: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
I leave shortly for the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg. But I wanted to take just a few minutes with you before my departure to brief you on the crisis in Syria, particularly on the chemical weapons investigation.
Since the horrendous attacks in the Ghouta area of Damascus two weeks ago, the United Nations Mission led by [Dr.] Åke Sellström has been working urgently to establish the facts regarding the nature and extent of any use of chemical weapons.
As the first probe of allegations of the use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century, the Mission’s success is in everyone’s interest.
Last Friday, I briefed the Permanent members of the Security Council on the status of the investigation. This morning, I briefed the Council’s ten non-permanent members.
This afternoon, my High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Ms. Angela Kane, will brief other Member States.
I have called for the Mission to be given every opportunity to complete its task. The United Nations investigation is uniquely placed to independently establish the facts in an objective and impartial manner. Its work will be conducted strictly according to internationally recognized standards.
The Mission has worked around the clock following its return from Syria to prepare the materials it gathered for analysis. I am pleased to announce that all biomedical and environmental samples will have arrived at the designated laboratories by tomorrow.
We are doing our utmost to expedite the process. At the same time, I need to stress the importance of not jeopardizing the scientific timelines required for accurate analysis. As soon as the Mission has arrived at findings on the Ghouta incident, I will promptly report the results to Member States and to the Security Council.
And as soon as it can, the Mission will return to Syria to complete its investigation and to prepare its final report.
As I have stressed repeatedly, if confirmed, any use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances would be a serious violation of international law and an outrageous war crime.
Almost a century ago, following the horrors of the First World War, the international community acted to ban the use of these weapons of mass destruction. Our common humanity compels us to ensure that chemical weapons do not become a tool of war or terror in the 21st century. Any perpetrators must be brought to justice. There should be no impunity.
Bearing in mind the primary responsibility of the Security Council, I call for its members to unite and to develop an appropriate response, should the allegations of use prove to be true. The Security Council has a duty to move beyond the current stalemate and show leadership. This is a larger issue than the conflict in Syria; this is about our collective responsibility to humankind.
Whatever the source, this latest escalation should be a wake-up call for the international community. We must put an end to the atrocities the Syrian people continue to suffer. We should avoid further militarization of the conflict and revitalize the search for a political settlement.
I take note of the argument for action to prevent future uses of chemical weapons. At the same time, we must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate a political resolution of the conflict.
The turmoil in Syria and across the region serves nobody. I appeal for renewed efforts by regional and international actors to convene the Geneva conference as soon as possible.
The G20 summit meeting in St. Petersburg is meant to focus on economic issues, including the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development. But I will use the opportunity of this gathering to engage with world leaders on this tragedy, including humanitarian assistance for the more than 2 million refugees and 4.2 million Syrians who have been displaced internally.
It is imperative to end this war.
Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen. Now I would be happy to take one or two questions.
Q: On behalf of the UN Correspondents Association, thank you, Secretary-General, for the briefing, and we wish you well on the G20 meeting. My question is, since you are talking about an end to impunity and you are also talking about the primacy of the Charter, which would prohibit any military strike without UN Security Council authorization and with a stalemate in the Security Council, what is it that you are proposing? What’s in the toolbox of the UN to avoid that kind of confrontation to end impunity and do you think the inspectors report will be out before the U.S. Congress convenes? Thank you.
SG: As I have repeatedly said, the Security Council has primary responsibility for international peace and security. For any course of actions in the future, depending upon the outcome of the analysis, the scientific analysis, will have to be considered by the Security Council for any action. That’s my appeal – that everything should be handled within the framework of the United Nations Charter. The use of force is lawful only when in exercise of self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and/or when the Security Council approves such action. That is the firm principle of the United Nations. And as I said again for your second question, our mandate to investigate the other allegations of chemical use remains unchanged and when we are ready, we will send, dispatch, our mission again to Syria for the final report. The timing will have to be considered later on, depending upon the situation.
Q: Do you mean, Secretary-General, that the position taken by President [Barack] Obama that in his opinion there should be a strike is illegal, and why did you agree, or your team, agree to limit the mandate of the investigation team to only, as you put it, the nature and extent of, rather than if the team has information as to who is responsible. Was this what the Syrian Government insisted or stipulated before agreeing to the protocol?
SG: I have taken note of President Obama’s statement. And I appreciate his efforts to have his future course of action based on the broad opinions of American people, particularly the Congress, and I hope this process will have a good result. And as for other issues, I have clearly stated my positions on the other issues, pertaining to this chemical weapons use.
Q: But who put the limits on the mandate? Is it the Syrian Government? What is the mandate of the team, of Sellström’s team, is not identified, so who put such limitations, on the mandate? Was it the Secretariat when it negotiated, was it the Syrian Government or was it the Security Council?
SG: This is the United Nations’ decision and my decision. The mandate of this team is to determine the use of chemical weapons – whether there was or not the use of chemical weapons. It’s not to determine who has used against whom. We do not have that kind of mandate at this time. So it’s not… one may think it is a limit, but this is based on the recognized standards of the international community. We’ve been working very closely with the OPCW [the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] and the WHO [World Health Organization].
Thank you very much. I have to rush to the airport at this time. I hope you will understand. Thank you.