The Hague, The Netherlands

08 April 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at joint press conference with Ahmed Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

SG: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and Director-General Mr. Üzümcü.

First of all, let me express my sincere thanks to the Government of the Netherlands for their leadership and valuable contribution in addressing global challenges. Yesterday I paid tribute to Her Majesty Queen Beatrix. This morning, I had a meeting with Foreign Minister [Frans] Timmermans, and this afternoon, I will have a meeting with Prime Minister [Mark] Rutte.

I particularly commend the Government of the Netherlands for its active role in advancing the rule of law in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to be the first United Nations Secretary-General to participate in this Review Conference of the landmark Chemical Weapons Convention. I thank the OPCW Director-General, Mr. Üzümcü, for his leadership and strong commitment to rid our world of chemical weapons.

At the opening session, I extended my full support for his leadership and the vital work of the organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons.

The Chemical Weapons Convention is a historic achievement in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation.

With robust monitoring and verification mechanism, it has achieved remarkable progress in eliminating chemical weapons. Our goal is now within reach.

However, progress in achieving the total destruction of chemical weapons must be complemented by universality of the Convention. That is why I urged the eight remaining countries* outside the Convention to join the rest of the international community without delay.

The Director-General and I also reviewed the latest developments with regard to the fact-finding mission to investigate the allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. As you know, I announced my decision to establish a United Nations investigation based on the authority given by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council resolutions. Member States can bring to my attention allegations of possible use of chemical weapons.

The Governments of Syria, France and the United Kingdom have presented allegations with supporting information and requested a speedy investigation. A number of other countries have also issued statements or sent me letters supporting a full and expeditious investigation.

As I stated at the Review Conference this morning, my position is clear. All serious claims should be examined without delay, without conditions, without exception.

In this regard, I am grateful to the relevant organizations for supporting this investigation. The OPCW’s technical support is critical. Mr. Üzümcü, Director-General, has ensured his organisation’s full support, as has WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, with whom I discussed this matter just a few days ago in Madrid.

Yesterday, upon arrival in The Hague, I met Mr. Åke Sellström, the Head of the investigation team. He assured me that he and his colleagues are ready to deploy.  I can announce today that an advance team is now on the ground in Cyprus, the final staging point to undertake the mission in Syria.

Following our meeting yesterday, Mr. Sellström, he is also now on his way to Cyprus today. 

I can report that the United Nations investigation mission is now in a position to deploy in Syria in less than 24 hours. All technical and logistical arrangements are in place.

This is yet another indication of my strong commitment to investigate all possible uses of chemical weapons in Syria.

Now all we are waiting for is the go-ahead from the Syrian Government for a thorough investigation to determine whether any chemical weapons were used in any location.

Ultimately, this is about the wellbeing of the Syrian people who have suffered enough already.

The longer we wait, the harder this essential mission will be.

Thank you very much. I am ready to answer your questions.

Q:  What’s the hold up? Your team is in Cyprus. They are ready at 24 hours notice. Why won’t Syria let you in?

SG: We are still in the process of discussing with the Syrian authorities for the Terms of Reference. As you know the Syrian Government, in principle, they have agreed to this investigation. It is in fact they, they have requested this investigation. There are still some technical and legal issues which we have to finalize. I am hopeful that we will be able to finish this as soon as possible. I urge the Syrian Government to be more flexible on this matter so that this mission can be deployed as soon as possible. We are ready. We are ready.

Q: Is it correct that the delay has been caused because after the initial agreement between all Member States and the Syrian Government to investigate Homs and Aleppo, it was then extended to include, as requested by the rebels and other Western states, a further investigation of other alleged attacks near Damascus and Homs. Is that what caused the delay, or is it purely technical?

SG: It is a little bit sensitive for me to go into detail, since this is now still being discussed between the United Nations and the Syrian authorities. As you know, in accordance with the Security Council and the General Assembly resolution, just a member state can request an investigation, and then I have a mandate to do it. As you know, the Syrian Government has requested, and the United Kingdom and the French Governments have also requested, with a certain difference of time. My position, as I have said this morning, is clear, that all the claims should be investigated, without exception, without any conditions. We are still discussing this matter.

Q: Are you confident that it will be possible to work out an arrangement with the Syrian Government whereby all sites will be accessed, and if not, would it still be acceptable?

SG: It is a matter of principle that when there is an allegation, whether it is one or two or multiple allegations, all these allegations should be investigated. Only then will we be sure that there was or there were uses of chemical weapons. Without that nobody can be sure. If we take one place, then what about the other allegations?  Then can we be safe, can we be sure that there was no such use of chemical weapons? That is our firm principle. It’s not only mine. That is what the United Nations, all provisions say.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, I am wondering if you can comment on whether additional details were made available to the United Nations beyond what was published by the letter from Syria concerning the investigation? In addition, I am wondering if you can provide a tentative timeline for addressing the legal and technical issues that still must be addressed? Are we looking at days or weeks?  Thanks.

SG: The important thing is that the longer we take, the harder it will be for the investigating teams to gather samples and evidence. That is why we are expediting it. We are not talking about a month. It has been already almost two weeks since I have announced and our senior representatives, both disarmament and legal and political departments, have been continuously discussing with the Syrian authorities, including our Security and Safety Department.

In principle, we are assured by the Syrian authorities that all security and safety will be guaranteed by the Syrian authorities. We appreciate that, and the United Nations security team will also be helping these teams.

What is important at this time is that they should show a sense of flexibility and a sense of urgency. Since they have requested that they have never used chemical weapons and they opened up their positions and [said] ‘why don’t you come and investigate’ if there were any allegations.  They, in fact, provided all information in a detailed way, so we are ready to investigate based on this. But the mission should be there on the ground to verify all of this. Now, we are really expediting, even until last night our senior advisers were talking, and I am also involved in this process. I can assure you that we are doing all that we can – diplomatically, legally and politically - that is what I can tell you at this time, but I am not in a position to share any detailed exchange of letters and detailed contents, as you may understand.   Thank you.

Q:  Just for clarity, the team from OPCW, how big a part are they of the people who are in Cyprus at this point in time?

SG: Let me tell you. The advance team is, at this time, small, but as the Director-General has said, we have been provided a list of 15 or around that, experts in sample analysis and medical teams provided by the WHO, so we have a very good and experienced team. There is no doubt about that.  So they are the best teams, readily available now. How many people can really go there, that again should be decided reflecting upon all security conditions and safety. Access is not that easy. That is why we have chosen Cyprus as a front staging base. There we can take better care of all this. We have the UN peacekeeping mission there - UNFICYP in Cyprus - so they are providing all technical and logistical support, so I am saying that we are ready. It is a matter of time.  Once there is a “go” sign then immediately they can proceed.

*The eight remaining States are: Angola, DPRK, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria.