Remarks by Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, following UNSC meeting on Syria
Q: Why is your new proposal different from the JIM?
A: Because it stresses the professionalism, impartiality, objectivity and a new reporting system that would ensure that the new mechanism is not hijacked by any party. It aims to make it truly independent and to provide for genuinely professional analysis and evidence of any alleged chemical weapons use in Syria.
Q: Has your intelligence shown that this was not an attack, the most recent to that attack, was not perpetrator by the Syrian government?
A: I don’t know. The thing is that we first learnt about it yesterday, during our closed consultations on Syria. It was announced by USG J.Feltman. And before it is confirmed, it is still an allegation. First, we have to receive the confirmation of the incident. Second, of course, we need to find the perpetrators. But what’s interesting - already yesterday and today some delegations, you know who, started saying it was the Syrian regime, before any confirmation, let alone investigation of the incident. And that’s the problem, because they know beforehand that it was the Syrian regime, before any investigation. And that raises the question whether they need any attributive mechanism at all.
Q: And just to be clear, USG Feltman did not say who did it...
A: No, he didn’t. He just mentioned it. We later tried to clarify and he said that these were accounts from the social media and some witnesses reporting. But not more than that.
Q: You are saying that there are quite a few Russians on the ground. You are saying that they don’t even know whether such an attack had happened.
A: For me yesterday it was a surprise. I never heard about it, I never read it from our press reporting. That was the first time I ever heard about that in the Security Council.
Q: How about today, a day later. Have you heard since then about any additional information?
A: No, no, and it strangely coincided with the meeting in Paris which took place today on that Partnership on preventing impunity.
Q: How would you see this whole thing being implemented? Who would be part of the investigative team? Who would you not want on that investigative team?
A: Before we establish a new mechanism, for which we are very hopeful, which we propose to call UNIMI, which is the United Nations Independent Mechanism of Investigation, before that it’s the job of the OPCW and their FFM. They have to do it in the meantime. They are being invited by the Syrian Government all the time to places where the Syrian Government stockpiles of chemical weapons discovered in recovered areas.
Q: Are they getting access?
A: There is an access. We are trying to arrange a visit by the OPCW FFM to see what it is and to make their conclusions.
Q: So, you trust the OPCW but not the UN component on JIM?
A: JIM failed and that’s the problem.
Q: Is it because the UN component of JIM, because the JIM was joint UN and OPCW, you say you trust the OPCW?
A: Because somebody invested heavily into JIM’s making conclusions which it made, which are totally unprofessional.
Q: Would the mission be run by the Secretariat or may be peacekeeping mission, DP A? How it will be run?
A: I have no idea. We, in the resolution, asked the Secretary-General to draft terms of reference for the Security Council to approve them by Members of the SC of course. From there we will see.
Q: You appealed to Ambassador Hailey. I mean saying that she had left already but hoped the US and Russia would coordinate. What would you do if you had meetings. Do you think they will come on board?
A: We just introduced the resolution. Nobody has ever seen it yet, but the United States and later a few other delegations said from scratch they are not going to discuss it because it’s another attempt of Russia to sort of distract the attention of the Security Council from the real facts. The «real facts» are that the Syrian government uses chemical weapons against their own people and Russia is covering them. The same Secretary of State R.Tillerson was saying today in Paris. His speech was basically dedicated to Russia and not to Syria or to chemical weapons. And that is not coincidental. Because it happens only on the eve of very important events on Syria - meetings in Vienna by Staffan de Mistura and the Congress of Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi. That’s not coincidental, I’m afraid.
Q: The idea of creating such a mechanism came before the reports on the attack on Idlib of after?
A: The idea came long before, but we were working on it. Minister S.Lavrov met Secretary-General A.Guterres last week and he mentioned it to him that we are going to come with it because we were serious about it when the JIM was closed. I was saying it, practically at every consultations that we had, that we are serious about reestablishing or rather establishing a new attributive mechanism that would replace JIM and would be truly professional, objective and can deliver.
Q: My question is when did you write the text?
A: The text was written before it, of course.
Q: Ambassador, in terms of the US effort you have said that there is an ulterior motives. Is your perception and the Russian Foreign Ministry’s perception that there is a main intention mainly to undermine your Iran nuclear deal?
A: With what?
Q: With the questions about nuclear weapons in Syria and everything else that is coming up.
A: Undermining Iran nuclear deal is a separate exercise which is being performed in parallel.
Q: Did you speak to any responsible, any Council members tonight on this? Has anybody spoken about this tonight?
A: Tonight we have said we are going to give the time to the Council members first to study the draft and then to engage the consultations at the expert level.
Q: How did SG respond to you? I assume you said it at the dinner that you, guys, had. Did he respond positively?
A: Of course. He was not making any judgments about it. But he accepted the information that Minister Lavrov provided to him.
Q: New mechanism will be under the counter-terrorism office which is run by a Russian?
A: It is not for me even to contemplate. Let the SG do the job of coming out with ideas how it should be structured.
Q: Just one more thing on the Afrin attacks. How you see the US role, what do you think in terms of how the US and Russia can coordinate on it?
A: I think that the US is already coordinating with Turkey, they made some initial statements on it, but than the tone was a bit different if you noticed it. I think they are in dialogue with Turkey on the Afrin affair.