Chemical-Weapons Attack in Syria Was Largest Such Event Since 2013, Disarmament Affairs Chief Tells Security Council

SC/12777
5 April 2017
7915th Meeting* (AM)

Chemical-Weapons Attack in Syria Was Largest Such Event Since 2013, Disarmament Affairs Chief Tells Security Council

Syria’s Representative Says His Country Faces Twin-Aggression by Permanent Members, Terrorists Enjoying Their Support

The reported use of chemical weapons in north-western Syria, if confirmed, would constitute the largest single such attack in that war-torn country since 2013, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs told the Security Council today, as members weighed a draft resolution to be tabled by France, United Kingdom and the United States.

Delivering his briefing, High Representative Kim Won-Soo said information on the reported 4 April use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun, in Syria’s Idlib Governorate, was still coming in.  According to the most recent media reports, a chemical attack might have caused the deaths of at least 70 civilians, and possibly injured more than 200.  The Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had informed that the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism was gathering and analysing information from all available sources, and would be prepared to deploy a team at the earliest opportunity.

He said the attack had reportedly been carried out through an air strike on a residential area, but the means of delivery could not be confirmed.  Syria’s chargé d’affaires had said, in discussions on 4 April, that his country’s Government denied having used chemical weapons in that or any other attack.  For the last three years following Syria’s initial declaration that all chemical materials and production equipment had been removed or destroyed, four hangars and seven tunnels had been disabled, while one hangar and two above-ground stationary facilities remained subject to verification of disablement, he said.

To complete the work, OPCW, Syria and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) had extended the Tripartite Agreement until the end of 2017, he said.  Consultations between the OPCW and Syria to address outstanding issues related to Syria’s declaration would resume in The Hague in early May, he continued.  The first OPCW inspection had taken place at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre from 26 February to 5 March, during which time inspectors had taken samples now being analysed in OPCW-designated laboratories.  Meanwhile, the OPCW fact-finding mission was examining recent incidents and would finalize its reporting in the coming weeks.

In the ensuing debate, delegates expressed unanimous outrage over the use of chemical weapons, but differed over varying reports of what had actually happened and the appropriate course of action.  The representative of the United States called the attack “a new low, even for the barbaric Assad regime”, emphasizing that such events would continue if nothing was done, because the Government of Syria — shielded by the Russian Federation — would have no incentive to stop.  If the United Nations consistently failed to act collectively, States would be compelled to take their own action, she warned.

Several speakers said that the Syrian Government bore primary responsibility for the attack, with France’s representative saying there was significant evidence that the event had not resulted from an air strike on a warehouse belonging to rebel groups, as some had claimed.  The atrocities had demonstrated the Assad regime’s “destructive folly”, he added, encouraging the Council to unite around a draft resolution to be tabled by his delegation alongside those of the United Kingdom and the United States.

The United Kingdom’s representative said the Assad regime continued to humiliate the Russian Federation by demonstrating just how empty Syria’s promises to remove its chemical weapons had been.  If Moscow hoped to regain its credibility, it must join the Council in helping efforts to ensure accountability, rather than hindering them.  The world viewed the Council as a “table of diplomats doing nothing”, he said, calling upon the Russian Federation to support the draft.

Responding to those remarks, the Russian Federation’s representative said the draft resolution was intended only to exert pressure on the Joint Investigative Mechanism to ensure it produced “facts that you need”.  Indeed, interest in the attack was interwoven with the “anti-Damascus campaign”, he added, emphasizing that, according to the Russian Federation’s information, it was Syria that had requested OPCW to investigate the events of 4 April.  He said that his delegation objected to the draft’s reliance on falsified reports and to the hasty preparation of the text.  The draft should condemn the use of chemical weapons by any party, and urge the fact-finding mission to write up thorough reports, he said, stressing that its current efforts could not be called impartial.

Others took a more cautious view, with Bolivia’s representative warning against using the Council as a “pawn on the chessboard of warlords”, and cautioning against anticipating the investigation’s outcome until it was concluded.  He stressed, however, that the Council should remember the causes behind the conflict in Syria — the invasion of Iraq more than a decade ago and other demonstrations of the interventionist policies of some States.  Those responsible must be held to account, he said.

Egypt’s representative, meanwhile, emphasized the need to bring the 4 April perpetrators to justice.  “We cannot understand how such crimes can go unnoticed without accountability,” he said, pledging that his country would support any Council action to hold those responsible to account and urging a focus on the production, possession and use of weapons of mass destruction by non-State actors.

Rounding out the debate, Syria’s representative said the statements made today proved that his country was the victim of two aggressions — an attack by permanent Council members, and a proxy attack by terrorist groups operating under their instructions.  Both seemed to have an appetite for fabricating information, he said, rejecting all false claims that the Syrian army had used chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun.  Syria possessed no such weapons in any form, he emphasized, declaring:  “We have never used them and we will never use them.”

Also speaking today were representatives of China, Japan, Italy, Uruguay, Kazakhstan, Sweden, Ethiopia, Ukraine and Senegal.

The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 11:59 a.m.

Briefing

KIM WON-SOO, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said information on the reported use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun, in Idlib, Syria, was still coming in, adding that many details of the attack were not fully known.  According to the most recent media reports, a chemical attack might have caused the deaths of at least 70 civilians, with perhaps more than 200 injured.  The Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had informed that the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism was gathering and analysing information from all available sources, and would be prepared to deploy a team at the earliest opportunity.

“If confirmed, this would constitute the single largest chemical weapons attack in [Syria] since the attack on Eastern Ghouta in August 2013,” he said, noting that the attack had reportedly been carried out through an air strike on a residential area.  However, the means of delivery could not be confirmed.  Reports indicated that the presentation of symptoms after the attack had included respiratory problems, vomiting, fainting and foaming at the mouth, as well as miosis (pupillary constriction), as seen in videos on social media, said to have been taken at the scene.  He said that in discussions on 4 April, the chargé d’affaires of Syria had said that his Government denied having used chemical weapons in that or any other attack.

Beginning his regular monthly briefing on the Syria chemical file, he reported that, for the last three years following that country’s initial declaration, all declared chemical materials and production equipment had been removed or destroyed.  Four hangars and seven tunnels had been disabled, one hangar and two above-ground stationary facilities remained subject to verification of disablement.  In order for the work to be completed, OPCW, Syria and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) had extended the Tripartite Agreement until the end of 2017, he said.

He went on to state that a number of outstanding issues related to Syria’s declaration remained open, and the high-level consultations between OPCW and Syria to address them would resume in The Hague in early May.  The first OPCW inspection at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre had taken place from 26 February to 5 March, during which time inspectors had taken samples now being analysed in OPCW-designated laboratories.

Meanwhile, the OPCW fact-finding mission was examining a number of incidents that had taken place in recent months and would finalize its reporting in the coming weeks, he said.  Should it conclude that an incident involved, or probably involved, the use of toxic chemicals as weapons, the fact-finding mission would provide the basis for the task of attributing responsibility for their use.  The Joint Investigative Mechanism’s investigative capacity was operational, and it would begin its work as soon as the fact-finding mission reached its conclusions, he said.

The Mechanism’s political and other support structures in New York were also operational, he continued, adding that a liaison presence would soon be established in Damascus.  The Council and all Member States in a position to do so, were expected to provide information and access to the mission and the Mechanism to facilitate the collection of evidence and the establishment of facts.

He went on to emphasize that the Secretary-General was deeply disturbed by the reports of alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun and elsewhere in Syria.  Indeed, the Council had determined repeatedly that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constituted a threat to international peace and security and a serious violation of international law.  With that determination, the international community had made tremendous efforts — symbolized by three joint missions of OPCW and the United Nations — to prevent the further growth of impunity for chemical weapons use.  Despite those efforts, however, it was profoundly disturbing to witness the tragic consequences of continued chemical weapons use against innocent civilians, he stressed.  The Secretariats of OPCW and the United Nations would provide all support to ensure that the fact-finding mission and Joint Investigative Mechanism discharged their mandates in an independent, impartial and professional manner.

Statements

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) pointed to similarities between yesterday’s reported attack and the 2013 one in Ghouta, saying “this chemical horror […] opens a new spiral in the descent towards the abyss in the Syrian tragedy”.  More than 100 people were confirmed dead, presenting symptoms that spoke to a substance more dangerous than chlorine.  While some claimed the incident was the result of an air strike on a warehouse belonging to rebel groups, there was significant evidence that was not the case, he said.  Indeed, the yesterday’s atrocities — which amounted to war crimes — illustrated tragically the Assad regime’s “destructive folly”.  Describing the silence of those who supported that Government as a kind of justification of its barbarism, he called for a political transition in Syria as soon as possible.  “No political alliance can justify closing one’s eyes to mass atrocities,” he stressed, adding that the Russian Federation bore a special responsibility as a permanent Security Council member.  It was to be hoped that the international community would unite around a draft resolution to be tabled by the delegations of France, United Kingdom and the United States.  Inaction was not an option, he said, emphasizing that the Council’s credibility — as well as that of individual States — was at stake.  “The world is watching us.”

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), recalling that the Council’s chance on 28 February to pass a resolution “that would have sent a clear signal” of consequences for all those using chemical weapons in Syria, said that following the vetoes of that text by the Russian Federation and China, the only message sent to the Assad regime had been one of encouragement.  “Yesterday, we saw the effects of those vetoes,” he said, adding that history would judge Council members on their response to such crimes.  Yesterday’s attack bore all the hallmarks of the Assad regime, he continued, noting that the regime seemed intent on making a mockery of the ceasefire supported by the Russian Federation.  Indeed, Assad continued to humiliate the Russian Federation in the eyes of the world by demonstrating just how empty Syria’s promises to remove its chemical weapons had been.  If Moscow hoped to regain its credibility, it must join the Council in helping — not hindering — efforts to ensure accountability, he emphasized.  Pointing out that the world currently viewed the Council as a “table of diplomats doing nothing”, with their hands tied behind their backs, he asked the Russian Federation directly what it was doing to end the horrendous attacks in Syria, and called upon that country to support tomorrow’s draft resolution.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) joined the condemnation of the “unjustifiable and criminal” use of chemical weapons in Syria, and demanded an independent, impartial, conclusive and apolitical investigation.  Noting that all chemical agents declared by the Government of Syria had been destroyed, while highlighting the Government’s demonstrated will to comply with all its obligations, he warned against use of the Council as a “sounding board for propaganda” or a “pawn on the chessboard of warlords”.  The international community must not anticipate the results of the investigation until it was concluded.  Stressing that the Council should remember the causes of the conflict in Syria — the invasion of Iraq more than a decade ago and other demonstrations of the interventionist policies of some States — he underlined the need to hold those responsible to account.

LIU JIYEI (China) expressed shock over the suspected use of chemicals as weapons and strongly condemned any attacks against civilians, adding that China consistently opposed the use of chemical weapons by any country, organization or person under any circumstance.  It also supported the OPCW-United Nations investigations into all uses of chemicals as weapons, on the basis of substantive evidence and conclusions that could stand the test of time.  Indeed, facts were needed to find the perpetrators, he emphasized.  Calling on all parties to end the conflict through political settlement, he expressed hope that they would create the conditions for such an outcome, and that the international community would capitalize on opportunities to reach such a solution.  It should also step up support to the United Nations as the main channel of mediation; urge the parties to consolidate the ceasefire and build mutual trust; and stick to Syrian-owned principles during negotiations.  Counter-terrorism was the priority on the Syrian question, he emphasized.  He went on to say that comments by the United Kingdom’s representative were not to be tolerated, adding that his statement did not “hold water”.  China hoped that delegate would stop abusing the Council because such actions were not in the interest of Syrians.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) said there was unity in the Council around the fact that the use of chemical weapons was not acceptable under any circumstance, and that those responsible must be identified and held accountable.  Welcoming the fact that the OPCW fact-finding mission had already begun gathering information on the Idlib incident, he urged the Government and all other parties in Syria to cooperate fully with that mission so that the Joint Investigative Mechanism could conduct its own investigation.  It was increasingly important to improve coordination between those two entities further, and for the Council to react more swiftly to the alleged use of chemical weapons, he emphasized.

SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) expressed shock at the allegedly renewed chemical weapons attacks in Syria and additional bombardments on hospitals in which victims were under treatment.  Condemning such actions in the strongest terms, he said such attacks confirmed the Syrian regime’s contempt for its people, and were a tragic reminder that violations of international law, including Council resolutions, continued.  Italy welcomed efforts by the fact-finding mission to gather information from all available sources, he said, adding that his delegation would support the draft resolution — to be submitted by the United Kingdom, United States and France — condemning the attack.  As long as no one was held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity, incentives to carry them out would persist, he said, emphasizing that accountability must be a shared priority for the Council.  A military approach would “wrong and delusional”, he said, declaring:  “The solution will never be found through military means.”  A political solution addressing the Syria’s instability, as well as the plight and aspirations of Syrians, was the only way out.  The fact that the attacks had been perpetrated at the end of the Geneva talks cast new doubts on the regime’s commitment to abide by the ceasefire, he said.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) condemned the use of chemical weapons anywhere, and specifically their confirmed use against Syrians in more than one incident, according to the Joint Investigative Mechanism.  “We cannot understand how such crimes can go unnoticed without accountability,” he said, emphasizing the need to hold those responsible accountable.  Egypt regretted the Council’s failure to reach a resolution that would ensure accountability, and called upon all parties to cooperate with the fact-finding mission to determine the facts on the ground.  He also urged the Joint investigative Mechanism to carry out its activities in accordance with Council resolutions.

Egypt would support any Council action to hold the people and parties responsible for the attacks to account, he pledged, stressing the need to focus on production, possession and use of weapons of mass destruction by non-State actors.  However, the Council lacked the legal instruments to address such threats, he said, recalling that after it had agreed on the parameters of a political process to ensure humanitarian access in Syria, divisions and infighting on unrelated issues had threatened the prospects for a settlement.  He underlined the need for mechanisms to that would take a serious and honest approach to investigating war crimes in Syria, and for the Council to return to political dialogue, while avoiding an atmosphere of competition, polarization and mutual casting of blame.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) condemned the reported 4 April attacks in Syria in the strongest terms, noting that they had resulted in a huge loss of life, including that of children who had died while struggling to breathe.  The use of chemicals meant that the perpetrators had intended to affect as many people as possible, he said, adding that attacks on hospitals treating victims had also been seen in Yemen and elsewhere.  “No one is winning this war,” he said, echoing a comment by the Secretary-General.  While there was not enough information to confirm who was responsible for the attacks, it was the Syrian Government’s responsibility to protect its people and to provide maximum, unhindered access to OPCW experts who had arrived on 4 April to collect the facts.  The Council remained part of the problem and not the solution, he emphasized, pointing out that the funds pledged during the donors’ conference would be useless if Syria was destroyed.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said his delegation had been shocked and saddened by yesterday’s attack, which demonstrated a ruthless attempt to destabilize the situation in Syria.  The peace process in Astana was threatened by such provocative acts, he noted, urging the OPCW and the United Nations to conduct investigations immediately and to hold those responsible to account.  Calling for full and open cooperation between the fact-finding mission and the Joint Investigative Mechanism, he also urged the Government of Syria and all other parties on the ground to cooperate fully with their investigations.  Indeed, any delay in disclosing information would demonstrate tacit agreement to continue such flagrant crimes in the future.  Urgent action must be taken to strengthen the investigations, particularly since the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s mandate was set to expire later this year.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) echoed the condemnation of the “monstrous and cowardly” attacks reported to have been carried out yesterday, expressing his delegation’s outrage.  The subsequent attacks on hospitals must also be condemned, he added.  The use of chemical weapons was illegal and constituted a threat to international peace and security, he said, adding that it might constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.  If the allegations about the Idlib attack were proven to be correct, that incident would mark a gruesome addition to already confirmed cases of chemical weapons use and other serious international crimes committed by the Syrian regime.  “In light of what we have seen over the last 24 hours, it is important that the Council now show a united front,” he emphasized, expressing support for the draft resolution to be presented by France, United Kingdom and the United States.  Sweden continued to support the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism and the Impartial and Independent Mechanism currently being established, he said, recalling also his country’s active support for the European Union’s recent imposition of targeted sanctions on individuals implicated in the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia) condemned the use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances.  Expressing hope that the fact-finding mission would investigate the attack as effectively as possible, he said that after a proper investigation, the Joint Investigative Mechanism must identify the perpetrators in order to ensure they were held to account.  Moreover, it was critical to base any Council action on credible evidence, he said, emphasizing that such action was necessary not only to ensure justice for the victims, but also to preserve the non-proliferation architecture that was a pillar of the international security.  In that context, Ethiopia was inclined to look favourably on the proposed draft resolution, he said.  “The more united the Council is […] the more the international community will be able to control the menace of chemical weapons.”

VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) recalled his country’s statement on 4 April describing the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere and under any circumstances as a blatant violation of international law and must be strongly condemned.  Those responsible must be held accountable, he reiterated, noting that there appeared no end to a flow of reports on the use of toxic chemical weapons — a grave consequence of actions and decisions made five years ago.  “The genie is out of the bottle, but the international community is still undecided what to do about it,” he said, describing as “astounding” the gap between “talking the talk and walking the walk”.  The children battling suffocation were doing so because of fateful decisions made in distant capitals by people preoccupied with their own grand agendas, he said, emphasizing that the mantras “OPCW investigation” and “need for the host Government’s full cooperation” sounded hollow and were an affront to Syrians.  “Where is the limit to our collective tolerance that appears to have no boundaries?”, he asked.  The Council should act resolutely without delay, he emphasized, expressing support for the draft resolution presented by the United States, United Kingdom and France as a balanced and focused document.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) conveyed condolences to the victims of the alleged use of chemicals as weapons in Khan Shaykhun.  Nothing could justify attacks using chemical weapons, including in Syria and especially against civilians, he emphasized.  For that reason, Senegal, a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, reiterated its strong condemnation of any weapon of mass destruction, including chemical weapons, he said, adding that such attacks underscored the need for the Joint Investigative Mechanism.  He urged consultations between OPCW and Syria to ensure the fact-finding mission’s ability to carry out its tasks.  How could the Council not be worried about the prospect of such non-State actors as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) use such weapons?  Senegal called for renewed cooperation among all Member States, especially those in the Middle East, and urged the Council to return to the consensus and cooperation that had prevailed during its adoption of resolution 2235 (2015).  The Council had provided evidence for dealing with declared chemical weapons arsenals, and must now follow up on the Mechanism’s findings, he said, underlining that only a negotiated political solution, based on the Geneva communiqué and the relevant resolutions, would enable resolution of the conflict, he said, while calling for a quick and reliable assessment of what had happened in Idlib, and for swift identification of the perpetrators.

VLADIMIR SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) described interest in the Khan Shaykhun events as “ideological”, saying it was interwoven with the anti-Damascus campaign that had not yet reached the place it deserved on the “landfill of history”.  It was interesting that when the processes in Astana and Geneva gained speed, the tragedy of Khan Shaykhun occurred.  According to the Russian Federation’s information, Syria had requested that the OPCW send a mission to investigate the events, he said, while reiterating his country’s position that the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere was unacceptable.  Those responsible must be held accountable, he added.  Describing the previous United States Administration’s setting of “red lines” as the “turning point” in the use of chemical agents in Syria, he said crossing those lines was supposed to have triggered intervention in Syria, but had instead laid the ground for future provocations by terrorists seeking to discredit the Damascus regime, and had thereby established a pretext for the use of military force against Syria.  That inaction had encouraged insurgents who had committed more significant actions in eastern Ghouta by their use of sarin, he said.  Damascus had demonstrated good faith, and through the Russian Federation’s efforts, the chemical demilitarization of Syria had been achieved.

When the Syrian Government’s ability to eliminate its chemical arsenals had become clear, he continued, reports claiming use of chlorine as a chemical weapon had emerged.  Yet, the fact-finding mission had never visited the sites where chorine had been used, which meant that poor foundations had been laid in establishing the fact-finding mission, as well as the Joint Investigative Mechanism.  Furthermore, reports fabricated by Syrian opposition about chlorine use by Government forces had been taken at face value, he noted, adding that the OPCW had determined that ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Nusrah Front had produced weaponized mustard gas and sarin, which had been used regularly in Syria.  Western intelligence had agreed with those findings, he pointed out, calling for a depoliticized investigation on chemical weapons use based on reliable and verified facts.  The Mechanism must expand its work and its mandate must be filled with anti-terrorist content.  He went on to explaining the Russian Federation’s good relations with Iraq and other States, saying:  “People believe us.”

Emphasizing that Member States should not try to “sow seeds of discord”, he expressed concern over States’ manipulation of the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s preliminary work, as seen on 28 March, when a draft resolution had been put to a vote while the Astana process was working well.  “You created an absolutely artificial provocation on that day,” he said.  If the draft by the Russian Federation and China had been taken seriously, the situation would have been radically different, but the Council had disregarded that initiative.  As for comments by the United Kingdom’s representative, he said the Russian Federation’s plan was to combat terrorism, and it saw no need to adopt a resolution since earlier decisions were sufficient for the conduct of a thorough investigation.

If some thought a draft was necessary, he continued, such a text must have a different preambular section outlining the Council’s deep regret over the use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun, stating the necessity of an investigation to determine who was responsible, and condemning the use of chemical weapons by any party.  The operative section should require the fact-finding mission to write up thorough reports on condition that the Joint Investigative Mechanism staff members were introduced to the Council and reflected a fair geographic balance.  It should include language banning armed groups from the area in which the incident had taken place in order to ensure full, safe and unimpeded access, he said, stressing that the priority was to ensure an objective inquiry into what had happened.

He said all falsified reports had come from the “white helmets” or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in London, both of which had been discredited.  All such actions were intended to provoke, and all were reflected in preambular paragraph 2.  “Have you even checked what you wrote?”, he asked.  The draft had been prepared in haste, and adopting it would not be a serious action.  As for the alleged on 4 April incident on territory controlled by Al-Nusrah Front, he said that Syrian aviation had conducted an air strike on an ammunition warehouse containing a facility for producing ammunition for the use of toxic weapons.  That ammunition was supposed to be used in Iraq and Aleppo, a city in which symptoms similar to those seen in Khan Shaykhun had been found in 2016, he said.

Emphasizing that chemical terrorism was increasing and must be countered, he said three years of his country’s efforts to respond to terrorist crimes had not led to success, due to opposition from Western colleagues who were indifferent to terrorist actions in Mosul.  While the Russian Federation supported the Secretary-General’s call for an objective investigation into recent events, it wished to see an end to the practice of running long-distance investigations based on information from the Internet or neighbouring countries, he said, emphasizing that the conclusions of the fact-finding mission could not be called impartial.

He went on to describe the United Kingdom’s statement as irresponsible, explaining that it was submitting draft resolutions meant only to provoke, while exerting unilateral pressure on the Joint Investigative Mechanism to “produce facts that you need”.  Beyond the norms of diplomatic standards, the United Kingdom’s statements about China and the Russian Federation were unacceptable, he emphasized, declaring:  “We won’t listen to it.”  The United Kingdom was guided by the need to change the regime in Syria, an obsession that hindered the Council’s work, he said, adding that London wanted the Council to provide cover for its illegitimate plans, a tactic that he thought it had abandoned long ago.

NIKKI HALEY (United States), Council President for April, spoke in her national capacity, recalling that the Council had voted unanimously on the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s mandate.  Now that it had revealed the Government of Syria’s use of chemical weapons at least three times, however, some members no longer supported it.  “There are times we are inclined to do more than just talk,” she said, emphasizing that the Council would not deserve its position as a defender of peace and security had it not risen to action today.  Rising to display photographs of yesterday’s victims — including infants in diapers — she stressed “we cannot close our eyes to those pictures”.  The attack, bearing all the hallmarks of the Government’s use of chemical weapons, was a “new low, even for the barbaric Assad regime”.

The Council had recently attempted to pass a resolution to hold the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria accountable, she recalled.  However, the Russian Federation had “defied the conscience of the world” by refusing to fulfil its responsibility, she said, adding that chemical-weapon attacks would continue if nothing was done because the Assad regime — shielded by the Russian Federation — would have no incentive to stop.  “If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it,” she emphasized, demanding:  “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?”  The Council must consider the implications of its inability to enforce resolutions preventing the use of chemical weapons, she added, warning that, if the United Nations consistently failed in its duty to act collectively, States would be compelled to take action on their own.

MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria) said that some Council members had made statements today that proved unequivocally that his country was the victim of two aggressions:  first, an attack by the Council’s permanent members; and second, a proxy attack by armed terrorist groups operating under their instructions.  Both seemed to have an appetite for fabricating information, he said, rejecting all false claims and allegations that the Syrian army had used chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun.  The Government did not possess such weapons in any form, he said, declaring:  “We have never used them and we will never use them.”  While Syria had worked with OPCW and honoured all its obligations under the Convention, he continued, some Council members, as well as Turkey, continued to levy false against Damascus, in addition to blackmailing Syria and its allies, obstructing peace talks and ending all prospects for a political solution to the crisis — even if children paid the price.  Recalling his country’s expression of concern over possession of chemical weapons by terrorist groups during last month’s talks in Geneva, he also drew attention to more than 90 letters that the Syrian Government had addressed to the Council, the Joint Investigative Mechanism and other bodies, containing documented evidence that Da’esh possessed toxic chemicals obtained from Turkey.  In that regard, he pointed out that the real beneficiaries of the use of chemical weapons were the very countries that had advocated regime change for years.  France, in particular, was responsible for a number of barbaric 2016 massacres in Syria, as well as the recent air strike in Deir ez-Zor which had claimed the lives of many civilians, he said.

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*  The 7914th Meeting was closed

For information media. Not an official record.