Statement by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at an open VTC of UNSC members on the implementation of resolution 2118
We thank I.Nakamitsu for her briefing.
We have quite a few things to say regarding today’s topic. So I kindly ask you to be patient and listen carefully. I think you will find it interesting.
Soon enough we may encounter a serious problem that risks to imperil the interaction between Damascus and the OPCW, and incur greater damage on the reputation of OPCW Technical Secretariat (TS). I imply the situation with Syria’s so called “initial declaration”. Let’s turn to facts.
Syria is a responsible partner in a dialogue with the OPCW and the United Nations. It is a partner that, despite unprecedented pressure, seeks to do its best to reiterate its commitment to the CWC. Basic common sense tells us that Damascus must be most interested in resolving issues with regard to its chemical file. However, in reality the more concessions it makes the more accusations it encounters.
Members of the Council should clearly understand that this stance aimed at “squeezing Syria” can take away all its motivation to cooperate with the OPCW. This country is living under Damocles’s sword of accusations of CWC incompliance - this time in the form of “outstanding issues” of the initial declaration. Our Western colleagues try to enact this through a punitive decision of the Conference of OPCW State Parties that would incapacitate Syria at the organization.
Those who criticize Damascus base their position on a knowingly impossible ultimatum that was enshrined in a July 2020 decision of the OPCW Executive Council. It demanded that Syria declare the chemical weapons that it does not have that were allegedly used in Al-Lataminah in March 2017. We have repeatedly expressed our criticism of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) regarding this incident, to say nothing of the illegitimate nature of the IIT itself, which was established once a corresponding decision was pushed through the Executive Council. But now I would like to highlight other facts that our Western colleagues prefer keeping silent about.
First of all, Shayrat Airbase was first declared as one of Syria’s CW production facilities, and OPCW inspectors visited it several times. The OPCW confirmed that this facility was destroyed as per CWC provisions long before the events of 2017.
Secondly, right after Western air forces bombed the base claiming that it remained a CW production facility, on 11 April 2017 Damascus requested the OPCW to dispatch experts to have on-the-ground inspection without any time limits and with full access, i.a. for collecting samples. The previous leadership of the TS OPCW declined this request.
Finally, Western delegations blocked our proposal in the OPCW Executive Council to formally authorize the Director-General to inspect Shayrat. We see why it was done – to hinder any serious investigation in the context of allegations against the Syrian leadership that they had made.
Had this inspection taken place at Shayrat Airbase “on hot scents” back then, it could have given an exhaustive answer to all questions. However, the IIT not only failed to study these circumstances, but it even failed to mention them in the report. Instead, it readily accepted all evidence from the biased so-called open sources, false “witnesses” and NGOs with rather dubious reputation.
Unlike our Western colleagues, we do not impose our conclusions on anyone, but just call for an objective and truly professional investigation and frank dialogue between the Security Council and the OPCW.
That is why for several months on end we struggled to have incumbent Director-General Arias invited to a UNSC discussion on Syrian chemical file. He evaded this for quite some time on various pretexts, until he finally came to brief the Council in December last year. But he failed to answer any of the questions regarding numerous malfunctions and irregularities in OPCW TS work on Syria’s chemical file that we had raised. But the problem will not vanish if you just close your eyes and pretend it is no longer there. We hope DG Arias will find an opportunity to answer our questions publicly. Council members have the list of those questions.
Today our Western colleagues will again predictably refer to the monthly report of OPCW Director-General (S/2021/84), especially to its passages addressing the initial declaration, to prove their allegations that Syria has been deliberately violating its obligations under the CWC, almost since the accession day. Again they will frighten us with an “unbelievable” figure of 19 outstanding issues with regard to the initial declaration, portray it as if it was Damascus’s fault, etc.
But it is manifest slyness and a shift in emphasis. I call on the Council, in the first place its newly arrived members who can develop their own independent vision of current developments, to look at this situation through the lens of objectiveness. The facts say that even amidst complicated internal military-political and epidemiological context, Syria does not evade cooperating with the OPCW. It faithfully accommodates all inspections, provides materials, and demonstrates readiness for dialogue in every possible way. Even the current report of the Director-General proves this, though it can hardly be called pro-Syrian.
On 8-13 November 2020, the Technical Secretariat took the seventh round of inspections in Barzeh and Jamraya. The report mentions it. What it does not mention is that the Syrian side again demonstrated maximum openness and readiness to cooperate.
On initial declaration, Director-General confirms that the 23rd round of consultations between the Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) and the Syrian side took place in Autumn 2020. As a result, 3 outstanding issues were lifted. Isn’t it objective progress at this track? Why is it addressed only in a negative way?
Besides, in December last year Syria submitted to the OPCW Director-General its regular report on steps to implement resolution 2118, where Syrian national authority responsible for OPCW-related issues reiterated that they were ready to continue consultations and technical meetings with the TS of the OPCW in order to resolve all the remaining outstanding issues.
Why don’t our Western colleagues ever speak of these positive developments and deliberately shift their emphasis to the issues that remain open?
No matter how biased the behavior of the Technical Secretariat is, no matter how many facts about anti-Syrian manipulations and falsifications on the part of its leadership pop up, Syria still keeps the door open. Would Damascus be doing this, had it anything to hide?
We often hear urgent calls on Syria to “cooperate more”. In response to that may we ask – what do you mean by “more”? It seems that the only thing to meet these requirements would be Syria “acknowledging its guilt” and publicly confessing to all deadly sins.
Damascus does everything possible to confirm its commitment to the CWC. But the case of Iraq and its chemical file clearly shows that as long as certain countries need to maintain political pressure on it – there will always be “unresolved issues”.
New York is not a specialized platform for discussing issues of initial declaration as such – this is prerogative of the Hague, which holds all the relevant technical expertise (e.g. unlike the UN Secretariat – so it remains unclear to us why the Secretariat affords such freedom of comments and conclusions on this topic). But since the colleagues address it so widely, I would like to point out that initial declaration only touches upon the military-chemical activity that Syria had carried out before it joined the CWC. Therefore, all questions pertaining to that lie in a historical dimension. And by far, they cannot be considered “evidence” proving that Syrians “hid something away”.
Besides, as we learned from former OPCW inspector I.Henderson during our “Arria-formula” VTC on 28 September 2020, guidance of the TS gives direct instructions to the Declaration Assessment Team (DAT) to keep outstanding issues open. Given such approach, no matter how hard Syrians justify themselves, they will not be able to close this part of the file. According to the same expert, at the initial stage of joining the CWC, many states-holders who had filed their declarations at that time, encountered similar problems. But those were interpreted as “minor drawbacks” that did not undermine the integrity of the declaration.
As per the established OPCW practice, initial declaration is a dynamic instrument. States add to their declarations all the time, which is not perceived as something extraordinary. Western states, including the US, Canada, Belgium, France, Germany update their declarations on a regular basis, therefore their declared stockpiles are growing – moderately, yet constantly.
Let me also remind you of Libya’s case: in 2012 around 500 undeclared projectiles were discovered there. Or we can also mention Iraq’s initial declaration: no one confirmed it, and it was based solely on UN documents at hand. But in those cases the TS for some reason was easy on the drawbacks with initial declarations.
Facts indicate that the Syrian initial declaration was not an extraordinary case; and that the TS and Western delegations prefer to inflate agitation around it artificially.
We repeatedly called on the OPCW leadership to explain why the TS openly uses double standards and “forgives” minor drawbacks in initial declarations of some countries, while “inflating” accusations against others. We received no answer to that. Instead, we see further groundless accusations that the Syrian authorities allegedly “do not cooperate actively enough” with OPCW in resolving this issue.
At the same time, the opposition seems to be enjoying the “presumption of innocence” – both TS OPCW and UN Secretariat neglect vast evidence proving that non-state entities (i.a. terrorist groups) used CW on the Syrian territory. Since 2013, Syria has sent over 200 letters to the UN Secretariat, informing about terrorist activities to prepare and carry out acts of chemical terrorism. Almost every month the Syrian side provides information about CW provocations planned by terrorists. We do not see it reflected in OPCW documentation.
Let me stress that Russia, as any other responsible OPCW member state, in strongest terms condemns usage of chemical weapons by whoever for whatever purposes. We are fully committed to strengthening the WMD non-proliferation regime. However, our conversation on this matter must not turn into a means to “punish the unwanted”. We will robustly oppose such attempts.
In conclusion, here is what I urge you to think about. If Syria is deprived of any right to partake in the OPCW decision-making process, what will be the point for Damascus to continue cooperating with the organization? After all, what is your goal: to “crush” Syria as you did with Iraq (on far-fetched pretexts), or ensure that the Syrian soil is free of chemical weapons?
We hope the Member States will approach current developments in a critical manner and will not take part in a performance with the anti-Syrian draft decision at the April session of the Conference of State Parties, because this performance threatens to undermine the authority of the OPCW and, for that matter, of the Security Council, which is responsible for implementing resolution 2118.