The international chemical weapons surveillance dog has informed the UN Security Council that its experts investigated 77 allegations against Syria and concluded that in 17 cases chemical weapons were used or permanently.
Fernando Arias, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), called this Thursday a “disturbing reality” that eight years after Syria joined the chemical weapons convention, which bans production or the use of these weapons, there are still many questions about their initial declaration of their weapons, warehouses and precursors and their continued program.
He said the OPCW will address a new issue in its upcoming consultations with Syria: “the presence of a new chemical weapons agent found in samples collected in large storage containers in September 2020.”
Arias said he sent a letter informing the Syrian government that he intended to send an OPCW team to examine the issue from May 18 to June 1, and applied for visas but never obtained answer.
He said he informed Damascus that he was postponing his arrival on May 28. With no response from Syria on May 26, he said, “I decided to postpone the mission until further notice.”
The chemical weapons convention
Syria was pressured to join the chemical weapons convention in September 2013 by its close ally Russia after a deadly chemical weapons attack the West blamed on Damascus.
In August 2014, the government of President Bashar al-Assad declared that the destruction of its chemical weapons was over. But Syria’s initial statement to the OPCW has remained in dispute.
In April 2020, OPCW investigators blamed three chemical attacks in 2017 on the Syrian government.
The OPCW executive council responded by demanding that Syria provide details.
When it failed to do so, France submitted a draft measure on behalf of 46 countries in November of that year to suspend Syria’s “rights and privileges” to the global watchdog.
In an unprecedented vote on April 21, the OPCW suspended Syria’s rights until all outstanding issues were resolved.
Russia has harshly criticized the OPCW and its investigators, accusing them of technical and factual errors and acting under pressure from Western nations.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia continued the attack on Thursday, accusing the dog of chemical weapons surveillance of using information “from biased sources opposed to the Syrian government” to collect evidence remotely and rely on “pseudo witnesses.”
He said the purpose of the board meeting was not to “interrogate” Arias by asking “uncomfortable” questions, as some board members said, but to “work collectively to improve the deplorable situation that has evolved at the OPCW.”
“We must speak frankly with the OPCW leadership to prevent a further erosion of its authority and prevent a repeat of the miserable situation that happened in April,” when he voted “incapacitate … a sovereign state that fulfills faithfully “chemical weapons convention,” said Nebenzia.
“We are concerned about the growing politicization of their work, initiated by our Western colleagues.”
The Russian ambassador said he was surprised that Arias expressed surprise that Syria did not cooperate with the OPCW investigation team tasked with determining responsibility for the chemical attacks.
“It’s not uncommon for Syria to never recognize the group’s legitimacy, neither do we,” Nebenzia said.
“The group was established illegitimately. You can’t expect Syria to cooperate. “
The UN ambassador to the United Kingdom, Barbara Woodward, denied that “the facts of this case are clear”.
“There are 20 unresolved issues in Syria’s initial statement on chemical weapons, which is deeply troubling,” he said.
“The UN and the OPCW have attributed eight chemical weapons attacks to the Syrian regime. It is clear that the regime retains the chemical weapons capability and willingness to use it.”
Woodward said the Security Council will continue to insist on Syria’s full cooperation with the OPCW, “and the total and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical program.”
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills said “no amount of misinformation – defended by Syria and its small number of supporters – can deny or diminish the credibility of the evidence presented to us by the OPCW.”
“The Russian-backed Assad regime continues to ignore calls from the international community to fully disclose and verifiably destroy its chemical weapons program,” Mills said.
“Without responsibility for the atrocities committed against the Syrian people, lasting peace in Syria will remain out of reach. The United States, once again, calls for justice and accountability as critical components to help move Syria toward a political resolution of the conflict “.