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Washington Accuses Damascus of Retaining Hidden Chemical Weapons Stockpile

Washington Accuses Damascus of Retaining Hidden Chemical Weapons Stockpile

Saturday, 1 October, 2022 - 06:00
This Friday May 5, 2017 file photo shows the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), The Hague, Netherlands. (AP)

The United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs called on Syrian authorities to again provide clarifications over 20 significant areas to completely resolve its chemical weapons file in line with Security Council Resolution 2118.

Syria must change its attitude and cooperate fully with the body charged with verifying its compliance with international law governing chemical weapons, Izumi Nakamitsu told the Security Council on Thursday.

“Syria continues to place conditions on the deployment of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Declaration Assessment Team,” she charged.

In light of this, the OPCW Technical Secretariat has proposed — subject to a change in attitude by Syria — that the shortcomings in Syria’s initial declaration under the Chemical Weapons Convention be addressed through an exchange of correspondence.

Nakamitsu noted, however, that such exchanges demonstrably yield fewer results when compared to the Team’s deployment, read a UN statement.

She went on to say that the Technical Secretariat, to assist Syria in resolving the 20 outstanding issues with its initial declaration, has provided that country with a list of information requested by the Team since 2019.

Noting that the Technical Secretariat has yet to receive requested information regarding the unauthorized movement of two cylinders related to the chemical-weapon incident that occurred in Douma in 2018, she stressed that Syria must urgently respond to these requests.

Syria’s full cooperation is essential to closing all outstanding issues, and the Technical Secretariat remains fully committed to ensure Syria fully implements its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

In this regard, Nakamitsu reiterated her full support for the integrity, professionalism, impartiality, objectivity and independence of OPCW’s work.

She also noted that the Technical Secretariat is currently planning to inspect the Scientific Studies and Research Center in Damascus in 2022, pointing out that Syria has yet to provide sufficient information regarding the detection of a certain toxic chemical at these facilities in November 2018.

For their part, the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission and Investigation and Identification Team continue their work relating to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and the latter body will issue further reports in due course.

Recalling that the Convention’s preamble calls on the international community “to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons”, she reiterated her call for unity within the Council towards this end.

In the ensuing discussion, many Council members called on Syria to cease its continued obstruction of OPCW’s work, highlighting Damascus’ ongoing refusal to provide information relating to its initial declaration and to provide a visa to a member of the OPCW Declaration Assessment Team, said the UN statement.

Russia’s representative, Dmitry Polyanskiy said Moscow has repeatedly noted that the Syrian chemical-weapons issue is going around in circles, and OPCW’s reports repeatedly publish “generic selections of unfounded accusations regarding Syria”.

They do not account for progress made by Damascus and have one aim: to create the impression that dialogue between OPCW and Syria is faltering due to the latter’s failure to cooperate, read the UN statement.

However, numerous questions posed to the OPCW’s Technical Secretariat remain unanswered, and OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias has not found time to brief the Council. He also has not visited Syria since his appointment to the position, which begs comparison to the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who visits facilities and speaks to the Council when called to do so.

The leaders of OPCW — not Syria — must change their attitude, Polyanskiy demanded, adding that there is no point in discussing the Syrian chemical-weapons issue every month; rather, it should be discussed every quarter in an open meeting.

US representative Richard Mills, meanwhile, condemned the Damascus regime’s “continued refusal to provide answers or information requested years ago by the declaration assessment team is an affront to Council and the OPCW.”

“The fact is that Syria has not declared its entire chemical weapons program and it retains a hidden stockpile of chemical weapons,” he underscored.

The risk remains that the Assad regime will again use chemical weapons against its own people, he warned.

Syria’s representative Bassam Dabbagh stressed that his country “has been keen to fully cooperate with OPCW, even before its entry into force for Syria.”

He rejected “all baseless accusations by some countries, foremost the United States, which is supporting terrorist groups that use chemicals weapons in Syria.”

He said his country submitted to the Director-General its monthly report on September 15, which included its activities related to the destruction of chemical weapons and its production facilities.

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