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Note: A complete summary of today’s Security Council meeting will be made available after its conclusion.
ANTÓNINO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said the situation in the Middle East was in chaos to such an extent that it had become a threat to international peace and security. The region was facing a true Gordian knot, with a multiplicity of divides. “The cold war is back with a vengeance, but with a difference,” he said, with the absence of past mechanisms and safeguards to manage the risks of escalation. In addition to the Palestinian-Israeli and Sunni‑Shia divides, there were opposing attitudes regarding the Muslim Brotherhood and the status of the Kurdish people, as well as dramatic threats to communities that had been living in the Middle East for millennia. Such a multiplicity of divides was reflected in a web of conflicts with different degrees of interconnection, with several of them linked to the threat of global terrorism.
Elaborating on several pressing situations, he said the wounds of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were deepening once again. Reiterating his call for an independent and transparent investigation into the recent violence in Gaza and appealing to those concerned to refrain from action that could lead to more casualties, he reaffirmed the Organization’s readiness to support a revitalization of the peace process leading to a two-State solution. In Yemen, his Special Envoy was doing everything possible towards a political settlement, as that country was experiencing the worst humanitarian disaster in the world today. It was high time to end the conflict in Libya, he said, encouraging all parties there to keep working with his Special Representative. In Iraq, with the defeat of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), the Government was in a stage of reconstruction, reform and reconciliation. Turning to Lebanon, he said it was absolutely essential to avoid a new Israel-Hizbullah conflict.
Syria represented the most serious threat to international peace and security, he said, emphasizing that there was no military solution. The solution must be political, through the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, as stipulated in resolution 2254 (2015). Syrians had lived through a litany of horrors. From the start of the conflict, there had been systematic violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international law tout court, in disregard of the United Nations Charter. In a moment of hope, the Security Council had adopted resolution 2401 (2018) demanding a halt to hostilities for a humanitarian pause, but no such ceasefire had materialized. Underscoring his outrage about reports on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he said the seriousness of the recent allegations required a thorough investigation with impartial, independent and professional expertise. In that regard, he reaffirmed his full support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and its fact-finding mission, which should be granted full access with no restrictions and impediments.
He said that, in a 11 April letter to the Council, he had expressed his deep disappointment it was unable to agree upon a dedicated mechanism to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria following the end of the mandate of the United Nations-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism. Norms against chemical weapons must be upheld, as a lack of accountability would embolden those using such arsenals by reassuring them of impunity, weakening current norms and the international disarmament and non-proliferation regime. In the same letter, he added, he had urged all Member States to act responsibly and appealed to the Council to fulfil its duties and not give up on efforts to agree upon an investigative mechanism. “Increasing tensions and the inability to reach a compromise in the establishment of an accountability mechanism threaten to lead to a full-blown military escalation,” he said. “This is exactly the risk we face today, that things spiral out of control. It is our common duty to stop it.”
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), agreeing with the Secretary‑General that the Middle East was currently a wounded region, said its largest injury was in Syria where the situation was fraught with global implications. The United States had, on 11 April, threatened to strike Syria, where the Russian Federation’s troops were also deployed for counter-terrorism efforts. Such an attack against a sovereign State would constitute a violation of international law and run counter to the Charter and could “not be allowed to happen. There must be accountability for such a planned intervention, he said, noting that recent experiences in Iraq and Syria were still fresh in the minds of those across the region. Any State daring to encroach on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity was unworthy of the status of a permanent member of the Council, however, one such member continued to insist on plunging the Middle East into one conflict after another.
Syrian armed forces had already received instructions on how to respond to such an attack, he said, adding that there was no evidence backing up the justification being invoked by Western States — namely, the allegation of chemical weapons use in the town of Douma. The Syrian Government had strongly rejected those allegations, calling on OPCW to promptly investigate. The Russian Federation’s proposed resolution through which the Council would support that fact-finding mission had been irresponsibly blocked by the United States, United Kingdom and France, who only sought to oust the Syrian Government and contain the Russian Federation. While those States had long supported terrorists in the region to further their goals, the Russian Federation was the sole party adhering to resolution 2401 (2018) calling for a ceasefire. Indeed, hundreds of residential areas had established normal relationships with the Syrian Government as a result of its implementation of that text. Warning that responsibility for the effects of recent dangerous developments would fall at the feet of the United States and its allies, he called on them to immediately reconsider their plan to bring the world to such a dangerous threshold and instead to support peaceful political negotiations towards ending the Syrian conflict.
NIKKI R. HALEY (United States) said today’s emergency meeting had been convened under strange circumstances, whereby the Russian Federation had asked members to address “unilateral threats” while ignoring its own unilateral actions in the region. What should really be considered today was the blatant violation of international law of the use of chlorine, mustard gas and other chemical weapons. Following the use of chemical weapons during the First and Second World Wars, the Geneva Protocols had been adopted and then States had signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, known as the Chemical Weapons Convention, binding signatories to never develop or use them or assist others in doing so. All Council members had signed that Convention, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had also agreed to abide by its terms.
In that context, she said, the Council should not condemn the countries or group of countries that had the courage to stand up for the Convention’s principles. Instead, it should focus on those who exhibited unilateralism in defence of chemical weapon use. Indeed, it was the Russian Federation alone that had consistently defended the Assad regime, having used its veto six times to do so, despite agreeing to act as the guarantor for the removal of all Syria’s chemical weapons. If the Russian Federation had lived up to its commitment, there would be no chemical weapons in Syria, and “we would not be here today”, she said. While the President of the United States had not yet made up his mind on whether to act in Syria, if he and his allies chose to do so, it would be in defence of international norms. “The [Russian Federation] can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies or its cover-up,” she said.
NAME TO COME (China), noting that the international community currently stood “at the crossroads of war and peace”, said his delegation had consistently supported the peaceful settlement of disputes and opposed the use or threat of use of force in international relations. Any unilateral actions ran counter to the principles enshrined in the Charter, which protected Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. Urging all parties to remain calm and avoid any actions that would escalate the situation, he called on the international community to never waver in supporting peaceful efforts to settle the conflict promptly, justly and peacefully. “The people of the world yearn for peace and they oppose war,” he said.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the threat to international peace and security was related to the systematic use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. There was no doubt as to the responsibility of Damascus, he said, citing facts that had been collected in Douma, the victims’ symptoms, complexity of the substances involved and the regime’s determination to overcome the last pockets of resistance. Emphasizing that the Council must urgently restore a mechanism to identify those using chemical weapons, he said successive Russian vetoes had paralysed and sacrificed the Council’s ability to act. By deciding to use chemical weapons on 7 April, the Syrian regime had reached a point of no return. France would shoulder its responsibilities and ensure respect for international law and Council resolutions. A chemical weapon attack in Douma called for a robust and united response. Emphasizing France’s commitment to ending impunity, he said the prohibition of chemical weapons must be restored and Damascus must not be allowed to transgress the norms of international law.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said the Assad regime, with a track record for using chemical weapons, was highly likely responsible for the Douma attack. The use of chemical weapons must be challenged and the United Kingdom would work with its allies to coordinate an international response. Her Government and the British people were not “Russophobes”, she said, but the Russian Federation’s actions had led to the current situation. What had occurred in Syria was a violation of the Charter and to stand by and ignore the need for justice and accountability was to place the security of all at the mercy of a Russian veto. The international order must not be sacrificed for the Russian Federation’s desire to protect its ally at all costs. Noting the United Kingdom’s contribution to the Syrian humanitarian appeal and its support for the Geneva process, she said the Russian Federation’s actions were both dangerous and prejudicial to international peace and security.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said his delegation deeply regretted that the Russian Federation had once again used its veto and blocked the Council from taking action. Sweden was working tirelessly to find a way forward. Condemning any use of chemical weapons in Syria, he demanded full access and cooperation for the OPCW fact-finding mission and underlined Sweden’s determination to establish a new impartial and independent mechanism. He requested the Secretary-General to immediately dispatch a high-level disarmament mission to Syria that would add political and diplomatic leverage to OPCW and its work with a view to ridding that country of any chemical weapons that might still exist there. There was still a way for the Council to shoulder its responsibilities and come together, as it owed as much to the people of Syria and the world.