So as you know, we’ve all just come from the Council meeting on Syria where we tabled a draft resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons program.
Just two weeks ago, tonight’s outcome seemed utterly unimaginable. Two weeks ago the Syrian regime had not even acknowledged the existence of its chemical weapons stockpiles. But tonight we have a shared draft resolution that is the outcome of intense diplomacy and negotiations over the past two weeks.
Our overarching goal was and remains the rapid and total elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program. This is a class of weapons that the world has already judged must be banned because their use is simply too horrific. This is a fundamental belief shared by the United States, all members of the Security Council and 98% of the world.
Tonight, the Council discussed a draft resolution that will uphold this international norm by imposing legally binding obligations on Syria – on the government – to eliminate this chemical weapons program.
This resolution will require the destruction of a category of weapons that the Syrian government has used ruthlessly and repeatedly against its own people. And this resolution will make clear that there are going to be consequences for noncompliance.
This is very significant. This is the first time since the Syria conflict began 2 ½ years ago that the Security Council has imposed binding obligations on Syria – binding obligations of any kind. The first time. The resolution also establishes what President Obama has been emphasizing for many months: that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security. By establishing this, the Security Council is establishing a new international norm.
As you know, we went into these negotiations with a fundamental red line, which is that we would get in this resolution a reference to Chapter VII in the event of non-compliance, that we would get the Council committing to impose measures under Chapter VII if the Syrians did not comply with their binding, legal obligations.
If implemented fully, this resolution will eliminate one of the largest previously undeclared chemical weapons programs in the world, and this is a chemical weapons program – I don’t have to tell you – that has sat precariously in one of the most volatile countries and in one of the most horrific civil wars the world has seen in a very long time.
In the span of a few weeks, the curtain that hid this secret chemical weapons program has been lifted and the world is on the verge of requiring that these terrible weapons to be destroyed.
This resolution breaks new ground in another critical respect. For the first time, the Security Council is on the verge of coming together to endorse the Geneva Communiqué, calling for the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers. If adopted, we will have achieved what we were unable to do before – unable to do for the last 2 ½ years – which is to fully endorse the Communiqué and call for the convening, as soon as possible, of an international conference on its implementation.
As Ambassador Churkin, with whom we’ve worked very productively, has just stated, we are hoping for a vote tomorrow in the OPCW Executive Council on the OPCW Executive Council decision. And then in the wake of that vote – and we hope in the immediate wake of that vote – we would have Security Council adoption of this text, which we are optimistic is going to be received very warmly. We’re optimistic for an overwhelming vote.
Before closing, just let me – bear in mind, or note that we should bear in mind, even as we express appreciation for the cooperation that brought us to this moment – but let us bear in mind the sobering catalyst for all of this: the use on August 21st of chemical weapons against people who were just sleeping in their beds, against children who will never get to share their dreams.
The precipitant for this effort was as ghastly as anything we have ever seen. And I think the Council members are well aware of that. A number of the Council members referred to the events of August 21 and the importance of keeping the victims of that attack and other chemical weapons attacks in their minds as we seek to move forward.
The second sobering note, of course, goes beyond chemical weapons, which is that every day Syrians are dying by artillery, by air power, by Scuds. This monstrous conflict has to come to an end. And we are hopeful that the spirit of cooperation that we carried from Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov’s negotiations in Geneva back to New York, that that spirit of cooperation will carry over now on humanitarian issues and, fundamentally, on the political solution we all know is needed to this horrific conflict.
Question: Thank you Ambassador Power. You and several other ambassadors, the United States, say that this resolution is enforceable yet the final paragraph states very clearly that the Council would have to meet again to adopt another resolution on Chapter VII measures. What guarantee is there that if the Council met a second time that there actually would be enforceable measures in the case of noncompliance?
Ambassador Power: Thank you that is an essential question. First, let me describe something within the resolution, which is the obligations that are imposed upon Syria, and again binding legal obligations. You know better than anybody the language of binding legal obligations. The Security Council decides that so and so shall. It’s binding, these are legal obligations.
So the Syrian Republic is not only obliged to destroy, not use, not transfer, not stockpile, etc., its weapons, but it’s also legally obligated to provide unfettered access to the people who come as part of this OPCW-UN mission, unfettered access to sites that the OPCW or UN deem of relevance and to individuals who might provide information on these programs.
Moreover the OPCW and the UN are to designate those individuals they want to comprise this mission, and as we have seen in the past, Syria has often sought to pick and choose who actually deployed into their territory as it related to observers and even inspectors, I think in the past. So we have specified in the resolution a number of the modalities that we would seek to see compliance with. Moreover the OPCW Executive Council’s decision itself is very specific in many of these respects, so we have laid out, you know, in a way, the terms and then what we have in the resolution, as well, which is very important, is a reporting procedure. There is a complaints procedure to the OPCW Executive Council, but there is also a reporting procedure back to the Security Council, every 30 days, so on a monthly basis, the Secretary-General of the UN and the OPCW Director-General will coordinate that, and as needed.
So again it is important now as we — if we can get out of the legally obligating and the authorizing phase and into the comprising of the mission phase — that we pull together the resources that we need to deploy, and of course seek out the individuals who have proven track records in missions of this complexity and of this nature. And it is going to be incumbent on those individuals who are deployed to Syria to report back to the Security Council.
I think what we have seen in the past is that noncompliance when it comes to Syria is usually pretty clear cut and pretty, pretty evident and I think what you will see hopefully if we get a very strong vote out of the Security Council in the next day or so is that all the Council members should have skin in the game in seeking to bring the words, again the legally binding, legal obligations for the first time ever imposed on Syria, to bring those words and those commitments to life.
Question: Thanks a lot, I wanted to ask you about the accountability section where it says, you know, it seems to say, expresses its strong conviction that those responsible shall be held accountable. I just wonder, what does that mean — should be held accountable where? What does it mean in terms of accountability as you have said it for this event, where does this paragraph lead?
Ambassador Power: Well I think it’s very, very important to note that this is a profound, this is a …let me put it a different way.
It is essential to see that taking chemical weapons away from a regime that just used chemical weapons, not just on August 21st, but in a whole series of occasions over the last year, is a very intense form of accountability. It is not a traditional form of accountability, the kind that you are describing, of course. But if there is any, I am not sure that there is any better acknowledgement of the world’s horror and outrage than the fact that the very instrument of terror that was employed is being taken away from that regime, so I think that’s a very, very important feature of accountability for the attack that they carried out on the 21st of August.
As regards, of course to the ICC and issues of that nature, you know, you know as well as we do the resistance that we and others have faced in pushing forward criminal accountability and again, let me say that we, the United States, have supported accountability of all kinds from the very beginning of this conflict. We supported the Commission of Inquiry, we’ve supported the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center, the evidence is being gathered. The day will come. This is a resolution narrowly focused on taking Syria’s chemical weapons program away, eliminating it so that it can do no further damage of the kind it did so recently.
Question: Ambassador few weeks ago, from that very podium, you said that the Security Council doesn’t work anymore because Russia wouldn’t authorize military intervention. Some people might argue that, in fact, it did work, and the principle of collective security, if when one of the five members says “no military action,” there’s no military action. Looking back now, are you happy that it didn’t, in your words, didn’t work, that we have now a diplomatic approach to get rid of the chemical weapons rather than only partially degrading them through military force?
Ambassador Power: Well, I think you put your finger on something very important. As you know when President Obama came forward and said that he was prepared to undertake limited military action, it was with the function of degrading – with the objective of degrading Assad’s chemical weapons capability. Obviously eliminating his chemical weapons capability would be preferable to degrading his chemical weapons capability. So, in that sense, I think that’s very important.
I mean, I will come back to what I said at this very podium: for two and a half years there was no path forward. On August 21st itself we could not get even a press statement out of the Security Council. And so, you know, I have to describe to you the contrast between the environment on August 21st and the days thereafter, and the contrast between the environment the last two and a half years in the Council, the extent of the division and polarization and the atmosphere that we are now seeking to build, starting with committing ourselves to eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons and then hopefully moving beyond to end this horrific conflict, or to take measures that would help end this horrific conflict more broadly.
I don’t think anybody can discount the role that the threat of limited military action played in expediting and catalyzing this conversation. And of course, as President Obama has made clear, the diplomatic way out was always our preferred option. That’s why for two and a half years we sought to work within the Council in a variety of ways.
So, I don’t think it’s the time for high fives or, you know, backslapping or anything. We have before us a very significant breakthrough in terms of the Security Council acting, finally, potentially, in a united fashion in order to impose binding legal obligations on the Syrian regime for the first time, in order to endorse Geneva.
Bringing this, the promise of this resolution to life as a practical matter in the field, as I said, is one dimension of our next step. And the second, of course, is to kickstart a political process so that all of the weapons that are being used to take away people’s children and to kill civilians are not employed in this horrific way.
Ambassador Power: We found tonight a viable path forward on the very specific issue of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons. Thank you.