Statement to the Fortieth Meeting of the Executive Council
U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Director-General, distinguished delegates,
Last September, when this Council embarked upon the effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program, in the aftermath of the terrible August 21, 2013 attacks in the suburb of Damascus, I think all of us expected to be at a very different stage of the effort than we are today.
While we recognize the accomplishment reflected in the removal of 92 percent of the declared stockpile, this job is not done until it’s fully done. Although the international community quickly readied an operation to transport and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons program, the Assad regime has delayed the operation at every opportunity. As a result, multiple dates established by the Council by consensus have been missed. Now Syria has not even met its own schedule for completing removal on 27 April. Almost 100 tons of Priority 1 and Priority 2 chemicals still remain in Syria, which represents approximately eight percent of the total declared material. And the international effort to actually destroy this deadly material is on hold and costing all involved significant sums every day.
Our understanding is that Syria has yet to even undertake the packing and other actions necessary to prepare the chemicals at the final site for transport. The excuse that the site, which is occupied by Syrian Government forces, is “inaccessible” was not acceptable before, and is not acceptable now. The Asad regime needs to develop and implement without further delay a plan to meet its obligations. We need to see immediate and tangible signs that Syria intends to transport, in the very near future, the remaining chemicals from the last site. Such signs could include, for example: destruction of the remaining isopropanol; prepositioning transport equipment; decanting chemicals; beginning packing and site preparations; and maintaining a readiness posture at the port of Latakia. These actions should already have taken place. They should be implemented immediately in order for Syria to demonstrate good faith that the regime is taking its obligations seriously, and is not playing political games. The international community cannot wait indefinitely for Syrian action.
Despite the destruction deadlines established in this Council by consensus, twelve chemical weapons production facilities declared by Syria remain structurally intact. Why is that? The answer is Syria’s intransigence and refusal to even discuss the matter with other delegations over the past weeks. The Technical Secretariat has helpfully contributed its expertise, but it cannot negotiate a final document in place of this Council. The United States continues to hope that a mutually acceptable approach can be found in the near future, but Syria must come to the table to discuss possible approaches. Our delegation is ready to actively and constructively participate in discussions to reach an acceptable solution.
Unfortunately, Syria’s position seems to be that the destruction requirements should be substantially lower for Syria than they were for other countries. This cannot be the case, especially in light of the Syrian regime well demonstrated willingness to use chemical weapons. In 2001, for example, the Technical Secretariat informed the United States that “any underground structure designated for locating any equipment related to the CWPF shall also be destroyed or filled in, and provided with permanent cover.” The same requirement should apply to underground structures in Syria. In its 27 September decision, this Council made clear that the Syrian CW situation demanded stringent verification measures and, to that end, we must ensure that these facilities can never be used by the Syrian regime to retain or restart a chemical weapons program.
Up to this point, the elimination effort has been focused solely on the chemical weapons and associated equipment and facilities disclosed by Syria to the OPCW Technical Secretariat and States Parties. The fundamental goal of the 27 September decision of this Council, UN Security Council Resolution 2118, and indeed the Convention itself is the prevention of further regime use of chemical weapons through the total elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program. Questions remain unanswered about the information provided by Syria. Therefore, additional attention will need to be focused on verifying the accuracy and completeness of Syria’s submissions. We welcome the initiative to send an OPCW team that has recently begun working on this task in Damascus. States Parties will also have an important role to play during this verification phase. This Council will need to monitor this effort closely as an essential part of its diligent oversight of the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program.
As we reflect upon what still needs to be done to ensure the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program, nothing is more disturbing than the recent reports of chemical weapons use. As we are all aware, there are public reports and videos indicating the use of a toxic chemical – probably chlorine – in Syria this month against the opposition-dominated village of Kafr Zayta. These reports are too serious to be ignored by this Council or the international community at large. The United States considers them to be a matter of serious concern requiring an immediate international effort to determine what has happened. We commend the leadership of the Director-General in seeking to establish the facts surrounding the recent allegations of chlorine CW use against Kafr Zayta, as he has just informed us that he will. This Council should welcome these efforts and call upon Syria to immediately and fully cooperate.
It was 99 years ago this month that chlorine was used as a chemical weapon near Ypres, Belgium. The Chemical Weapons Convention was designed specifically to eradicate those kinds of attacks, whether they use sarin, chlorine, or any other toxic chemical to harm or kill. The name of the very room where this Council meets today – the Ypres room -- is meant as a reminder to all of us both of the horrors of chemical weapons and the imperative, for the sake of all mankind, that we do everything in our power to ensure such heinous weapons are never used again in Syria or anywhere else.
I ask that this statement be considered an official document of this Executive Council meeting and placed on the OPCW website and external server.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.