Remarks by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at the Arria-Formula Meeting VTC of UNSC members “Protecting Developing Nations Against Political Pressure: Upholding the Integrity of International Non-Proliferation Regimes”
Let me thank you for participation in today’s event that we organize together with our colleagues from China.
First, I would like to show an iconic photo which was taken almost 20 years ago. Here we can see then-State Secretary Colin Powell showing to the Council a test tube with unknown substance to illustrate claims about the alleged threat of bio toxins of Iraqi origin. This photo entailed very grave consequences. As a part of our today’s exercise, I invite you to take some time travel to 2003.
On February 2003, this Council convened a meeting to discuss the implementation of resolution 1441. That day, the US Secretary of State was very eloquent in describing the horrifying crimes of Iraqi “regime” and its alleged continued violation of non-proliferation obligations. He insisted that Baghdad broke every single rule, accumulating stockpiles of chemical and bio weapons as well as pursuing a nuclear bomb. These conclusions, Mr. Powell argued, were built on “solid evidence” and constitute –I quote – “irrefutable and undeniable” proof that Iraq was in further material breach of resolution 1441. He referred to “thick intelligence files” with a record of Iraqi non-compliance.
It is really fascinating that if you look through the transcript of Mr. Powel’s speech, you will see almost the same wording that some of our colleagues are using today when they talk about Syria.
I quote again: “Iraq’s behavior demonstrate that its regime has made no effort to disarm as required by the international community”. “Regime is concealing its efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction”. “By its failure to seize one last opportunity to come clean and disarm, Iraq has put itself in deeper material breach and closer to the day when it will face serious consequences for its continued defiance of this Council”. And lastly, “We must not shrink from whatever lies ahead of us. We must not shrink from our duty to the citizens of our countries”. I hope there is no need to tell you that even those who were directly involved in the set-up have subsequently acknowledged that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the thing Colin Powell is holding in this photo is a deliberate fake.
I am taking this time for a reason: these recollections of the past bring about a bitter déjà-vu feeling. Just like 20 years ago, today our Western colleagues invest every effort to convince the world that “Assad’s regime” is to be blamed for all deadly sins, including in the area of non-proliferation. In doing so, they deliberately neglect all the arguments that contradict the guilty case they are making. They turn a blind eye not only to our criticism but also to basic laws of nature, physics, mathematics and even common sense. They attempt to mobilize public opinion against Syrian authorities with a sole purpose. And it is not about upholding non-proliferation regime. It is all about the regime change.
So here comes the question – given that record of the past, are there any grounds to believe that in 20 years we will not finally learn that what our Western colleagues are claiming today was again just a pack of lies?
We are tempted to draw parallels in how such regime-change campaigns have been orchestrated. In 2003 it was doctored tapes, fake test tubes, shaky evidence from undisclosed “human resources”, blurred satellite images. Today with the advance of technology we have staged videos of “White helmets” and other notorious actors being major contributors to the OPCW inspectors, shady “open source” testimonies with fake eyewitnesses, doctored reports of Fact Finding Mission on Douma, censored opinions of “inconvenient” OPCW staff members, and on top of it – punitive actions against them on behalf of Technical Secretariat leadership. This most recent development is that a reputable mass media such as BBC have engaged in a shameful crusade against those who simply want to reveal the truth. Maybe having in mind the picture that I am holding right now.
We do not intend to focus today’s discussion on what happened in Iraq after 2003. It is part of history now. We all have drawn our own conclusions from that. We reference Iraq today only in the context of perpetual trend to use groundless accusations to put pressure on developing nations. It is exactly what our Western colleagues now pursue with regard to Syria. Their consistent efforts have brought us to an important watershed: draft decision for the OPCW State Parties to suspend Syria’s rights on the basis of what I just mentioned. They intend to table this document in the Hague, at the Conference of State Parties which is to take place on April 20-22. To be more sure, Western delegations are now promoting, as you will see in their statements today, a fresh report of the illegitimate Investigation and Identification Team on alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria in Saraqib, which is just as genuine as the substance in Colin Powell’s test glass. Shall we all fall into this trap again to regret it in 20 years?
Today we have a unique opportunity to hear the views of those who have extensive knowledge on the flaws of decision-making that led to hasty actions, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.
Our distinguished briefers today include Hans von Sponeck, former UN Assistant Secretary General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator (Iraq).
We are honored to have here today U.S. Army Colonel (ret) Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell, now Visiting Professor at William and Mary College.
And, we are also glad to greet Aaron Mate, a well-known independent journalist, producer and presenter for The Grayzone, contributor to The Nation magazine. He already participated in our similar event in September 2020 devoted to revealing the truth about flawed OPCW investigations of alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian government in Khan Sheikhun in 2017 and Douma in 2018.
We hope that our briefers will help all of us to broader our outlook, including on the Syrian chemical dossier, to make sure the mistakes of the past are not replicated either in Syria, or elsewhere. Without further ado I will give the floor to our distinguished guests.
In response to the representative of Estonia:
The purpose of our Arria-formula meetings is to provide additional information on topics that we are discussing, and it is not a repetition of our regular Security Council meetings on Syria CW. I would encourage colleagues to use the presence of our guest speakers and to engage in dialog with them. Today we are not focusing on Russia's concerns. Russia has its concerns and quite legitimate. But it's not only Russia that has concerns over that file. To ignore it is not the way to resolve the situation. And on disinformation campaign, I would like to show you once again this photo [Colin Powell at the UNSC meeting on Iraq in 2003].
In response to the representative of France:
I would like to remind you that during the meeting [on Iraq] to which I have already referred a few times today, then-Foreign Minister of France Dominique de Villepin said that the report presented to the Security Council by the United States Secretary of State Colin Powell contained information, indications and questions that deserve to be explored further, but that would be up to the inspectors to assess the facts in accordance with the resolution 1441 (2002). Already, the report brought the new justification to the path chosen by the United Nations, which should strengthen the international community's common resolve on the disarmament of Iraq.
In response to the representative of Germany:
I'm always prepared to discuss all those issues that you raised to give you our perspective. Thank you for exposés that you make every time when you take the floor. You said that we are “bullying” the Council. If revealing the truth is “bullying”, yes, we will continue “bullying” the Council. We want to expose the truth. So we want to show that there are legitimate concerns that you preferred to simply ignore. And that's been a long time. Now, we came to a point where you could make a decision that would further deteriorate the situation. So if you call that “bullying”, yes, that is it.
Today we heard a lot of criticism towards the way the OPCW handled the Douma investigation. We also heard accusations of Russia trying to wage a disinformation campaign about those episodes and the Syrian chemical file. But what is interesting, but not surprising is that none of the Western countries either disproved or challenged what the briefers were saying today. They were not talking to the briefers. They were not trying to deal with the facts or with the opinion that they presented.
In fact, Douma and Khan-Sheikhoun are only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other episodes which have been scrutinized by international independent experts, and there are many questions that should be dealt with, first and foremost by OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias, whom we would be most happy to see in the Security Council again soon.
I want to reiterate that Russia is absolutely on the same page with everybody who appealed today for assuring that chemical weapons are never again used in Syria or elsewhere. As we see all the briefers and our Syrian colleagues are also committed to this goal. We are also in favor of ensuring accountability for any chemical weapons use.
But there is a big difference between ensuring accountability and trying to punish an independent state on the basis of questionable, to put it mildly, pieces of evidence collected through biased third parties and with obvious breach of the OPCW chain of custody.
This fully applies to the latest product of the illegal IIT on Saraqib that was mentioned repeatedly today. The Saraquib report did not come accidentally. We said in advance that it would emerge on the eve of the Conference of OPCW States-Parties that will convene in the Hague next week. No surprise that the report bears the same errors, same “original sins” as the previous investigations, and cannot under any circumstances be considered fair, technically correct and convincing.
Colleagues, I want to ask you once again to reflect on what the promoters of the draft decision of State-Parties depriving Syria of its rights are up to. What do they really try to achieve? Do they want to strengthen cooperation between Syria and the OPCW? Obviously not. We can’t see any logic behind such plans, especially given the fact that Syria actively engages with OPCW as is confirmed by recent Secretary-General’s report.
Nevertheless we have learned that our Western colleagues spare no effort to try to tip the scale in their favor in the Hague at any price. Obviously, at the expense of truth. In particular, we have learned that France and Denmark are organizing on April 19, on the eve of the OPCW Conference of State-Parties, a presentation of the ill-famed movie “Cave” which has been repeatedly rejected by professionals as a propaganda stunt. We hope that the delegations in the Hague will not succumb to such blatant pressure and manipulation aimed at winning their support for the French draft decision that I mentioned.
In order to shed some additional light on this propagandistic endeavor we invite you to join the webinar hosted by the Russian Embassy in the Hague also on April 19 at 4.30 pm immediately preceding the French-Danish event.
I also noticed that Mr. Mate addressed personally to Ambassador Mills [Deputy PR of the United States] and Ambassador Allen [Deputy PR of the United Kingdom]. Since they are not here, I commit that we will ask the question that Mr. Mate posed to them. We will address that question to their delegations, and we will ask them to provide an answer to it.
I would like to thank you once again for participating in this event. I hope we will not stop at this when trying to expose and reveal what is happening around the Syrian chemical file, which is a big enigma, a mystery that we have been watching unfold for eight years by now. Thank you very much. I particularly thank the briefers for their time and their very valuable contribution. Thank you.