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SC/14540
3 June 2021
8785th Meeting (AM)

Syria Yet to Fulfil Chemical Weapons Convention Obligations, Top United Nations Officials Tell Security Council, as Members Spar over ‘Objectivity’

Permanent Representative of Damascus Insists It Has, Citing ‘Geopolitical Game’ Led by United States, Western Allies

Syria has yet to fulfil its obligations under the international instrument prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, pointing to documented instances of Syrian forces engaging in that type of warfare while members sparred over the objectivity of the investigative process used to substantiate those claims.

Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the Council on the continued assessment by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that Syria’s declaration under the Chemical Weapons Convention cannot be considered complete due to identified but unresolved gaps and discrepancies.  While the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission and Investigation and Identification Team continue to study and investigate alleged uses of chemical weapons in the country, the Council must unite to solidify the normative framework condemning that method of warfare, she emphasized, warning that unless the international community identifies and holds accountable all those who use such weapons in violation of international law, “we are allowing the use of chemical weapons to take place with impunity”.

Fernando Arias, Director-General of the OPCW, also briefed the Council, pointing out that the Syria chemical weapons dossier remains far from closed eight years after that country’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013.  Providing an update on recent developments, he said the Investigation and Identification Team’s 12 April report concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that, on 4 February 2018, a Syrian air force helicopter dropped at least one cylinder on the city of Saraqib that ruptured and released chlorine over a large area.  On 21 April, concerned over the proven use of chemical weapons, the Conference of States Parties to the Convention stripped Syria of its rights and privileges under that instrument.

However, the OPCW is neither a court nor a tribunal, he emphasized.  Instead, it provides information that assists the international community in ending impunity for the use of chemical weapons and holding perpetrators to account, he said, adding that its work continues on multiple fronts — including engagement with Syria — and the Fact-Finding Mission’s report on chemical-weapons use in Douma on 7 April 2018 remains a matter of interest.  Whereas concerns have been raised about potential bias in that report, no State party to the Convention has challenged the finding that chlorine was used in Douma, he noted, reiterating that the Mission’s mandate was to determine the use of chemical weapons, not to identify perpetrators.

Turning to more recent developments, he said that an investigative mission to Syria regarding the September 2020 discovery of a chemical-warfare agent in large storage containers was postponed due to the lack of response from Damascus and the non-issuance of visas for OPCW inspectors.  Other inspection plans will proceed as soon as security conditions and the coronavirus pandemic allow, he added.  The OPCW will continue to deliver on its mandate, even under difficult conditions that include the spread of disinformation and the denigration of some staff members, he pledged.

In the ensuing debate, Council members agreed on the need for the OPCW’s highly scrutinized work to conform to exacting standards of impartiality and ensure the credibility of the chemical weapons non-proliferation regime.  Members diverged, however, over whether the OPCW has met that burden; some praised the OPCW’s rigorous objectivity and professionalism despite difficult circumstances, while others decried the politicization of the organization and its mechanisms, particularly the Investigation and Identification Team.

The Russian Federation’s representative, in the latter camp, detailed a series of discrepancies between the original and final versions of the OPCW’s report on the Douma incident.  He pointed out that the OPCW has taken a different approach to Syria than countries which, while facing similar problems, were not subjected to the “storm of criticism” directed at Damascus.  Furthermore, the OPCW ignores information provided by professionals, including the Syrian authorities and the Russian military, in favour of weak evidence offered by volunteer organizations such as the “White Helmets”, he said, emphasizing that the OPCW must not be used as “a political instrument to punish undesirables”.

China’s representative also expressed concern over politicization of the OPCW and the deep divisions among States parties to the Convention.  That treaty only authorizes fact-finding, not the identification of perpetrators, he stressed.  As such, the creation of the Investigation and Identification Team falls outside the Convention’s scope and was “replete with political motive”.  He called upon all States parties to uphold the Convention “as a yardstick” and refrain from confrontation.

Ireland’s representative, conversely, joined others in expressing regret that some Council members continue to challenge and undermine the OPCW’s work without any factual basis.  Emphasizing the need to “separate the facts from the noise”, she called for Syria’s cooperation with the OPCW to resolve serious issues relating to its declaration under the Convention.  Those responsible for documented chemical-weapons attacks conducted by Syrian forces must be held to account, she said, stressing:  “impunity cannot be an option”.

Mexico’s representative questioned the monthly format of meetings on the Syria chemical weapons dossier, pointing out that — while ongoing dialogue between the Council and the OPCW is useful — such debates have not led to progress towards preventing the use of chemical weapons in the region.  It is not helpful, he said, to have an exchange of well-known views that promotes further polarization at the expense of finding alternatives.

Syria’s representative expressed regret that the OPCW has been transformed from a technical organization into “an instrument in a geopolitical game led by the United States and its Western allies”.  Syria has fulfilled its obligations arising from its voluntary accession to the Convention on Chemical Weapons, he insisted, adding that its continued cooperation with the OPCW has been “met with ingratitude and denial”.

Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Viet Nam, India, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Kenya, United Kingdom, Norway, Niger, Tunisia, France, Estonia, Iran and Turkey.

The meeting began at 10:14 a.m. and ended at 1:32 p.m.

Briefings

IZUMI NAKAMITSU, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said Syria must engage with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to close outstanding issues around that country’s initial declaration under the Chemical Weapons Convention.  Due to identified but unresolved gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies, the OPCW continues to assess that Syria’s declaration cannot be considered complete, she added, noting that the Fact-Finding Mission is currently studying all available information relating to alleged use of chemical weapons in the country and continues its engagement with Syria and other States parties to the Convention regarding a “variety of incidents”.

Furthermore, she said, the Investigation and Identification Team — following the issuance of its second report in April 2021 — continues its investigation of incidents in which the Fact-Finding Mission has determined that chemical weapons were used or likely to have been used in Syria, and will issue additional reports in due course.  Recalling that the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention decided on 21 April to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under the treaty, she emphasized the international community’s obligation to identify and hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons in violation of international law, otherwise, “we are allowing the use of chemical weapons to take place with impunity”.  Unity in the Council is necessary to re-establish the norm against chemical-weapons use, and the Office of Disarmament Affairs will provide whatever support it can so that “these dreadful weapons can be truly relegated to the past”, she stressed.

FERNANDO ARIAS, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said chemical weapons were used in Syria before and after its accession to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction in 2013.  Those well-documented incidents took place despite the destruction of that country’s declared chemical weapons stockpile.  Eight years on, the Syria chemical weapons dossier remains far from closed, he noted.  Providing updates on recent developments, he said the second report of the Investigation and Identification Team — responsible for identifying the perpetrators of chemical-weapons use in Syria, where the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission has determined that such armament was used or likely to have been used — released its second report on 12 April.  It concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that on 4 February 2018, a Syrian air force helicopter under the control of the Tiger Forces dropped at least one cylinder on Saraqib, which ruptured and released chlorine over a large area, affecting 12 named individuals.  (Its first report alleged that air force units deployed sarin and chlorine in Ltamenah in March 2017.)  Investigations are continuing into five other cases of chemical-weapons use or possible use, with findings to be issued in due course, he added.

Expressing grave concern about the proven use of chemical weapons, he recalled, the Conference of States Parties to the Convention decided on 21 April to deprive that country of its right to vote in the Conference and in the OPCW Executive Council, to stand for election to the Executive Council or to hold any office of the Conference or its subsidiary organs.  It also requested that Syria declare to the OPCW Secretariat the facilities where the chemical weapons used in Ltamenah were developed, produced and stockpiled; declare all of its chemical weapons and production facilities; and resolve outstanding issues emanating from its initial declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile and programme, he said.  Over the years, both the OPCW’s policymaking organs and the Security Council have called for an end to impunity for the use of chemical weapons and for perpetrators to be held accountable, he noted, recalling further that the Secretary-General of the United Nations has stressed that accountability is an essential part of deterrence.  Emphasizing that the OPCW is neither a court nor a tribunal, he said that, rather, it provides information that helps the international community carry out its accountability role.

The OPCW’s work continues on many fronts, including engagement with Syria, he said, noting that the Fact-Finding Mission’s report on the use of chemical weapons in Douma on 7 April 2018 remains a matter of interest.  However, two former inspectors who attempted to portray the OPCW’s work as biased, and who suggested that its Douma report was somehow biased, were in violation of their obligations to the OPCW and its member States, he stressed, explaining that one was never a member of the Fact-Finding Mission and only played a supporting role for a limited period.  The other participated in a limited capacity and could not be deployed because he had not completed all the required training.  He added that no State party to the Convention has challenged the finding that chlorine was used in Douma, reiterating that the Fact-Finding Mission’s mandate was to determine the use of chemical weapons, not to identify perpetrators.

Turning to more recent developments, he said that in the absence of a response from Damascus and the non-issuance of visas for OPCW inspectors, he decided to postpone a mission to investigate the discovery of a chemical warfare agent in large storage containers in September 2020.  However, plans to inspect the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre are continuing, alongside preparations to inspect air force bases identified by the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism and the Investigation and Identification Team as having been involved in the use of chemical weapons.  Those will proceed as soon as security conditions and COVID-19 allow, he said.

He went on to state that the OPCW secretariat continues to deliver on its mandate in extraordinarily difficult conditions, which include cyberattacks, the spread of disinformation, the denigration of some staff members and challenges posed by pandemic-related restrictions.  Other issues also require attention, he said, noting that chemical weapons have been used in several countries in the last seven years, often involving highly sophisticated chemical agents.  The fact that four States have still not ratified or acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention must also be taken into account.  He went on to say that despite “zero nominal growth” in its budget, the OPCW will soon begin construction of its Centre for Chemistry and Technology in The Hague, to be completed in 2022.

Statements

VASSILY NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) welcomed the Director-General’s presence and expressed hope that he could provide comprehensive answers to specific questions regarding the OPCW’s work that a representative of the United Nations Secretariat cannot.  Concerning the Fact-Finding Mission’s report on the April 2018 incident in the city of Douma, he detailed a series of discrepancies between its original and final versions, describing the latter as “massively redacted” under pressure from some delegations.  That constitutes fraud, he said, citing the Fact-Finding Mission’s approach to toxicologists from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) about the possibility that chlorine was responsible for certain deaths in Douma.  However, he pointed out, the final report provides no information regarding that meeting or the conclusions of those experts.

He asked the Director-General to explain why the OPCW has taken different approaches to Syria and other countries which, while facing similar problems, were not subjected to the “storm of criticism” directed at Damascus.  The OPCW, he said, seemingly applies a double standard in selecting sources of evidence for its conclusions because it is keen to obtain even “weak” information from the “White Helmets” but ignores information provided by professionals, such as the Government of Syria and the Russian military.  Questions for the Director-General are snowballing as experts attempt to discern the truth about Douma, he said, adding that Western media are tarnishing the matter.  Not a single violation in the OPCW’s investigative methodology has been rectified, and the material evidence collected does not satisfy impartiality or chain-of-custody concerns, he noted.

Further inquiring whether the Director-General is ready to organize a technical discussion to discuss discrepancies in the OPCW’s report — which Western colleagues supporting the organization’s depoliticization should welcome — he said the Russian Federation and “many other responsible members” of the Convention have been concerned since the OPCW’s inception over the politicized line imposed by Western States, he said, underlining that it must not be used as “a political instrument to punish undesirables”.  It must remain an impartial guardian of the chemical weapons non-proliferation regime.

RICHARD M. MILLS, JR., (United States) said the Assad regime is responsible for innumerable atrocities, some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Its use of chemical weapons against its own people is well documented, he noted, adding that Damascus continues, with the Russian Federation’s support, to ignore calls for full disclosure and verifiable destruction of its chemical weapons programme.  “Without accountability for the atrocities committed against the Syrian people, lasting peace in Syria will remain out of reach,” he said, calling for justice and accountability as critical to helping move towards a political resolution of the conflict in Syria.  No amount of disinformation espoused by Syria “and its very small number of supporters” can negate or diminish the credibility of the evidence presented by the OPCW, he emphasized, adding that the Assad regime must comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and resolution 2118 (2013).

HAI ANH PHAM (Viet Nam), emphasizing the importance of fully implementing the Convention, said the OPCW plays a pivotal role in achieving that goal.  The OPCW’s work must be carried out in a comprehensive, objective and impartial manner to establish irrefutable facts and evidence that ensure justice and prevent violations of the Convention, he said.  Viet Nam calls for close, continuous and constructive cooperation between the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team and the national authorities in addressing remaining issues relating to Syria’s initial declaration under the Convention, which is the first obligation of a State party to that treaty, he added.  Noting that divergent views are hindering implementation of the Convention and of resolution 2118 (2013), he stressed that the international community must unite, addressing differences constructively and avoiding politicization of the issue.

JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico) urged Syria to consider a new round of talks with the Declaration Assessment Team to shed light on the presence of pure chemical weapons agents found, in September 2020, in samples drawn from large storage containers.  Mexico trusts that the Joint Investigative Mechanism, the Fact-Finding Mission and the Identification and Investigation Team will continue their regular inspections, he said, emphasizing that Syria’s cooperation is necessary for those bodies to carry out their mandates.  Ongoing dialogue between the Council and the OPCW is useful, but it would be worthwhile to give further thought to the format of monthly public meetings, he said, noting that they have not led to progress towards preventing the use of chemical weapons in the region.  It is not helpful to have an exchange of well-known views which promote further polarization at the expense of finding alternatives, he stressed, appealing for a redoubling of the Secretary-General’s good offices with Syria, the OPCW and interested parties.

T.S. TIRUMURTI (India), emphasizing the importance of maintaining the Convention’s credibility and integrity, said any investigation into the use of chemical weapons must be impartial, credible and objective.  It must also follow the provisions and procedures embedded in the Convention to establish facts and reach evidence-based conclusions.  “We again ask OPCW to follow these parameters scrupulously.”  He encouraged Syria to continue to engage and cooperate with the OPCW to resolve all pending issues expeditiously.  Warning against the possibility of chemical weapons falling into terrorist hands, he stressed that the international community cannot afford to ignore terrorist activities in Syria and the wider region.  He went on to reiterate India’s call for a comprehensive and peaceful resolution of the conflict through a Syrian-led dialogue facilitated by the United Nations and which takes the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people into account.

DIANI JIMESHA PRINCE (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) said that all facets and activities of the OPCW, including the work of the Fact-Finding Mission, the Identification and Investigation Team and the Declaration Assessment Team, must be impartial, transparent and not politicized.  “The OPCW must be above reproach” and its findings capable of withstanding rigorous scrutiny, she added, emphasizing the importance of pursuing consensus-based decisions in order to prevent further polarization and divisiveness.  It is also important to resolve gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies in the initial chemical weapons declaration, she said, stressing the essential need for the Government of Syria to cooperate with the process and with full implementation of resolution 2118 (2013).  She went on to underline the Council’s duty to promote and facilitate dialogue between the Government and the OPCW, not only to demonstrate respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but also to help foster much needed trust and cooperation.

GENG SHUANG (China) expressed hope that Syria and the OPCW will resolve outstanding issues through dialogue and consultation.  He pointed out, however, that the Convention only authorizes fact finding, not the identification of perpetrators, emphasizing that the establishment of the Investigation and Identification Team falls outside the scope of the treaty.  The Team’s establishment was “replete with political motive” and inconsistent with the technical nature of the OPCW’s work, he added.  Noting the practice by some countries of forcing votes — including the April decision suspending Syria’s rights under the Convention that gained the support of less than half of the States parties — he expressed concern over deep divisions and politicization of the OPCW and the Convention.  He called upon all States parties to uphold the treaty “as a yardstick” and to refrain from confrontation, expressing hope that the OPCW conducts its work independently, objectively and impartially in order to ensure a world free of chemical weapons.

MICHAEL KAPKIAI KIBOINO (Kenya) said the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by any party, threatens to open the door to wider and escalating use.  “It is therefore not an overstatement to argue that future generations may condemn or praise how this situation is dealt with by the Security Council and its members.”  Forward progress will only be possible if Council members take pragmatic steps to cool down politically charged perceptions, he emphasized.  Encouraging better collaboration between Syria and the OPCW, he said Kenya looks forward to the Declaration Assessment Team’s report.  He went on to urge all parties to be vigilant in their engagement with militant groups that adhere to the aims of Al-Qaida and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), observing that all too often, short-term expediency when dealing with such groups has turned out to be extremely harmful to the international community.

BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) noted that the OPCW continues its work in an objective, professional manner despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and intense scrutiny.  Expressing concern at the increasing number of unresolved issues in Syria’s initial declaration, now 20, and the eight chemical-weapons attacks attributed to the Syrian regime by the Investigation and Identification Team, she said the regime clearly retained the capability and willingness to use chemical weapons after 2014.  That retention constitutes an ongoing risk of further use of those weapons and of potential acquisition by other groups with the intent to use them, she cautioned.  In light of that threat, the United Kingdom calls upon Syria to cooperate fully with the OPCW, in accordance with resolution 2118 (2013) and for the full, verified destruction of its chemical-weapons programme.  She also asked the Director-General for his assessment of Syria’s cooperation and what further measures are required to resolve outstanding issues.

TRINE SKARBOEVIK HEIMERBACK (Norway) expressed regret that the OPCW’s monthly report yet again describes very little progress.  Encouraging the Syrian authorities to respond to the Declaration Assessment Team’s proposed re-scheduled deployment in order to confirm its next round of inspections, she emphasized:  “It is critical to rebuild trust.”  She reiterated Norway’s concern that 20 issues remain outstanding, urging Syria to cooperate fully with the OPCW and provide more information about the chemical agents produced or weaponized at certain inspected facilities.  She went on to stress that the Council can neither ignore violations nor allow the erosion of the vital global norm against the use of chemical weapons.

NIANDOU AOUGI (Niger) said it is regrettable that, eight years after the Council adopted resolution 2118 (2013), the question of chemical weapons in Syria remains unresolved.  The lack of consensus means it has not been possible to identify those responsible for the use of chemical weapons, at the expense of the victims who are awaiting justice, he noted.  Emphasizing that the Council must demonstrate unity on the issue while also focusing on the humanitarian and political situation in Syria, which are no less important, he warned that the credibility of the Council and the OPCW are at stake.  Any action that exceeds full implementation of resolution 2118 (2013) and the OPCW’s reports should be avoided, he said.  At the same time, cooperation between Syria and the OPCW must be maintained in good faith to advance the work of the Declaration Assessment Team.

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) expressed regret that some Council members continue to challenge and undermine the OPCW’s work without any factual basis, despite the clear professionalism and integrity of its staff.  Certain members have asserted that Syria is being treated differently with regard to its initial declaration under the Convention, she noted, asking the Director-General how he would assess the level of Syria’s cooperation with the OPCW and how the Council should assess its efforts in that regard over the seven years since the Declaration Assessment Team was formed.  Emphasizing the need to “separate the facts from the noise”, she said Syria must fulfil its legal obligations, cooperate fully with the OPCW, resolve the serious issues relating to its declaration and ensure that its entire stock of chemical weapons is declared and verifiably destroyed.  Furthermore, those responsible for the attacks at Ltamenah and Saraqib — as well as other documented chemical-weapons attacks conducted by Syrian forces — must be held to account, she added, stressing:  “Impunity cannot be an option.”

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) voiced his delegation’s support for the rules-based, multilateral chemical-weapons non-proliferation regime and the OPCW’s mandate, pointing out the latter’s critical responsibility for independent, impartial verification, including in Syria.  He urged the OPCW and Syria to restore regular consultations as soon as possible to address outstanding issues pursuant to that country’s contractual obligations.  The OPCW must be able to continue its impartial, transparent investigations into the use of chemical weapons by any party — including remaining terrorists in parts of Syria — and the Government must facilitate field access for its different technical teams, he emphasized.  The international community and the Council must coordinate their efforts to monitor implementation of the Convention and resolution 2118 (2013) in order to restore trust in the non-proliferation regime, he added.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), noting that today’s meeting provides a good opportunity to “re-establish some facts”, said that the OPCW’s report indicates that the situation has not improved.  On the contrary, the presence of a pure chemical-warfare agent in storage containers represents another outstanding issue in a long list to which the Syrian regime has yet to respond, he added.  Questioning the Director-General about his assessment of Syria’s cooperation with the OPCW over the seven years following the adoption of resolution 2118 (2013), he said the decision by the Conference of States Parties was necessary because a State party cannot flagrantly and repeatedly violate its international commitments with impunity.  Turning to a specific incident mentioned in the report, he noted that — despite clear proof that the Syrian air force dropped a cylinder of chlorine on the city of Saraqib — some countries have presented unconvincing challenges to that document.  On that matter, he asked the Director-General to explain the methodology by which the Investigation and Identification Team arrived at its conclusions.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, saying that the unanswered questions raised in the OPCW’s report indicate that Syria has neither declared nor destroyed all its chemical weapons and their production facilities.  “There is no hiding the fact that there are serious shortcomings in Syrian cooperation with the OPCW,” he added.  The Council must live up to its words, he said, emphasizing that impunity, tolerance and inaction cannot be an option when chemical weapons are used against civilians.  He went on to express support for the professional and impartial work of the OPCW Technical Secretariat, which, despite seven years of intense scrutiny, have demonstrated integrity and dedication to the task of upholding the prohibition of chemical weapons.

Mr. ARIAS, responding to comments and questions raised, said he is used to “inconvenient questions” from the Russian Federation’s representative to the OPCW in The Hague.  He went on to refresh the Council’s memory on the work of the Fact-Finding Mission and its report into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma in April 2018.  He described the remarks of Inspector A and Inspector B after the release of the Fact-Finding Mission’s report as “erroneous and uninformed”.  He also quoted a note verbale from the Embassy of the Russian Federation, posted on the OPCW website, which stated that Moscow did not challenge the Fact-Finding Mission’s findings regarding the possible presence of chlorine agents in the cylinder dropped near a multi-storey residential building in Douma.  Reopening the Douma investigation will require a decision of the OPCW’s policymaking organs, he said.

Explaining why Syria is being subjected to such a stringent verification regime concerning the work of the Declaration Assessment Team, he recalled that, according to Article 4 of the Convention, a possessor State that joins the Convention 10 years after it entered into force in 1997 must undergo a verification procedure set out by the OPCW’s Executive Council.  After more than seven years, that Team is still unable to produce a report Stating that Syria’s declaration is accurate and complete, he said, noting that further on-site inspections will not be possible before mid-year due to high temperatures that prevent inspectors from carrying out their work in their heavy protective clothing.  He added that the names of witnesses and consultants whose work is cited in OPCW reports are not published in order to protect their independence.

Discussing the term “reasonable grounds to believe”, he described it as a standard and well-known legal term that means there is a strong basis to conclude that chemical weapons have been used.  Turning to a BBC Sounds podcast from November 2020, which featured an interviewee named Leon, he emphasized that the OPCW Secretariat does not know any such person and did not authorize any staff members to speak with the broadcaster.  He went on to say that whereas some Council members might not be comfortable with the OPCW’s work, “we have no alternative” and its Secretariat has an obligation to implement the decisions of States parties to the Convention.

Mr. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), taking the floor a second time, noted that certain Council members called for separating facts from noise.  However, these colleagues “prefer to turn a blind eye to the facts we provide” and substitute them with “convenient conclusions”.  He stressed that, while the OPCW may investigate with the tools at its disposal — such as the Fact-Finding Mission — the problem lies with the methods it employs to do so, as they contradict the Convention.  While the Director-General spoke at length to answer questions posed by members, the Council “heard nothing he did not say before”.  Highlighting certain discrepancies in the OPCW’s narrative on the Douma incident — which contradicts facts previously provided by the Russian Federation — he proposed the holding of an Arria-formula meeting that includes both the Director-General and all those who have doubts concerning the OPCW’s reports, so that the former can demonstrate why he is correct, and the latter are not.

Mr. ARIAS emphasized that when he briefs the Council, he comes well prepared to share what he knows.  He recalled that the Investigation and Identification Team, while not recognized by Syria, was established by the Conference of the States Parties to the Convention.  He added that “we have to open and work together” in the best interests of the United Nations, the OPCW and the international community.

BASSAM SABBAGH (Syria), expressing regret that the OPCW has been transformed from a technical organization into “an instrument in a geopolitical game led by the United States and its Western allies”, rejected certain members’ accusations as “political blackmail”.  Terrorist organizations’ use of chemical weapons — or threat thereof — in Syria since 2013 has endangered Syrians and hinders implementation of the Convention’s non-proliferation regime.  He condemned the fact that State sponsors of these terrorists have worked over the past eight years to divert international attention away from this “chemical terrorist threat”, while simultaneously pressuring international investigation teams to impose political agendas in violation of the Convention.  This “deliberate subversive approach” has led to faulty conclusions, he said, and undermined the credibility and professionalism of the OPCW.

He also questioned why the Fact-Finding Mission did not promptly investigate information Syria provided regarding the possession and transfer of chemical weapons and toxic chemicals by terrorist organizations attempting to frame Syria’s army for chemical attacks.  Concerns about procedural flaws and professional irregularities in the Mission’s work methods persist, which raise questions about the credibility of its reports, including its latest report on the alleged incident in Douma.  Asking why the OPCW insists on “deafening its ears” to the substantive observations and valid inquiries made by Syria, the Russian Federation and others, he reiterated that Syria has fulfilled its obligations arising from its voluntary accession to the Convention in 2013 and that its continuous cooperation with the OPCW “was only met with ingratitude and denial”.

MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said it is a matter of deep concern that Western countries have exploited the Chemical Weapons Convention and politicized the OPCW’s work to advance their narrow interests in Syria.  The OPCW has been forced to use flawed procedures, defective methodologies and fabricated information, together with an improper and broken chain of custody.  In addition, its process has failed to acknowledge Syria’s decision to accede to the Convention and its cooperation in fulfilling its obligations.  The OPCW’s work in Syria is a clear regression from the basic norms of impartiality and professionalism, he said, calling for greater efforts to uphold the OPCW’s authority and the full, effective and non-discriminatory implementation of the Convention.

RAZIYE BILGE KOCYIGIT GRBA (Turkey) said there is no plausible explanation as to why Syria’s regime still fails to declare the chemical warfare agents produced or weaponized at a previously undeclared facility.  That is clearly in violation of its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.  Instead of clarifying discrepancies and inconsistencies, it keeps “piling new items” onto a long list of outstanding issues.  “The regime’s defiant behaviour cannot be condoned or tolerated,” she said, adding that the Council must enforce Syria’s full cooperation with the OPWC and ensure the immediate and complete declaration of its chemical weapons programme.  She went on to say that the regime’s denial of visas to the Investigation and Identification Team is a clear attempt to hide the truth and that it never intended to stop using chemical weapons against its own people.

For information media. Not an official record.