Amb. Power at U.N. Security Council on Syria

U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, N.Y.
September 4, 2014

Remarks at the Security Council Stakeout Following Consultations on Syria


Good afternoon everyone. Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag just updated the Council on the OPCW-UN Joint Mission’s progress on eliminating Syria’s declared chemical weapons program. She outlined the U.S. ship Cape Ray’s completed destruction of Syria’s most dangerous declared chemicals and discussed plans to destroy the remaining chemical weapons production facilities.

She also noted the Technical Secretariat’s continuing work to address discrepancies and omissions related to the original Syrian declaration. On this point, a number of Council members stressed how important it was to resolve questions with regards to the Syrian Government’s omissions and discrepancies in its original declaration.

Some Council members raised their concerns about the Syrian government’s use of chlorine gas, as reported by the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry last month.

While the Joint Mission’s formal role winds down on September 30, Council members noted that the elimination effort is not complete. The Council expressed thanks to Secretary-General Ban for his willingness to exercise good offices in furtherance of the implementation of Security Council resolution 2118. Some Council members, including the United States, expressed a desire for monthly updates on continuing efforts to completely eliminate the Syrian CW program.

One final note on today’s consultations: Earlier this morning, the Council met with the troop and police contributing countries to the UN Mission in Liberia. As you are all aware, Liberia is the epicenter of the tragic Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Special Representative Landgren, joined by the UNMIL force leadership, briefed on the many efforts that UNMIL is undertaking to protect and safeguard all UN personnel, notably the UNMIL peacekeepers, who continue to serve commendably to help Liberia consolidate its hard-won peace and security gains more than a decade since the end of that country’s civil war. Under-Secretary-General Ladsous and Assistant-Secretary-General Banbury also highlighted the continued commitment of the UN system, including in support of the efforts of Dr. Nabarro and the World Health Organization, to respond fully and promptly to the Ebola outbreak across the region. We also heard from several of UNMIL’s largest troop and police contributors who attended the briefing, many of whom expressed their continued and strong commitment to Liberia.

Let me just conclude, if I may, with a comment in my national capacity on the session from which I’ve just come. I want to stress that much more work still needs to be done on Syria’s chemical weapons program. The international community must continue to press for the resolution of all discrepancies and omissions in Syria’s original declaration. We must ensure that the Syrian government destroys its remaining facilities for producing chemical weapons within the mandated time frames and without the repeated delays by the Assad regime that plagued earlier removal efforts. We must also address the Syrian military’s reported systematic use of chlorine gas in opposition areas, as described by the Commission of Inquiry’s August report.

And as we work toward these goals, we need to keep front and center the fact that Syria is still wracked with violence of the worst sort. The Syrian government has increased its reliance on barrel bombs to wage a brutal aerial campaign, targeting schools, residential buildings, and crowded streets. In the first six months of this year, the Assad regime has dropped an average of 260 barrel bombs a month – this is three times more than during the same period last year. And it continues to launch rockets into neighborhoods, including hundreds of rockets that struck the neighborhood of Jobar over the past week, utterly destroying entire city blocks.

The progress we’ve made over the past year on chemical weapons, and the progress in Syria, will never be complete or real until the violence ends and steps toward a political solution begin. Thank you. And I’d be happy to take a few questions.

Reporter: Thanks. So, Ms. Kaag spoke to us in the briefing room just now and one of the things that she brought up were volume discrepancies related to Syrian declarations, which were repeatedly revised. Were there any details discussed in the Council about the volumes? And is the US concerned about this particular type of discrepancy, particularly in light of the recent expansion of territory under control of ISIL?

Ambassador Power: The United States is concerned about all discrepancies, also the potential that there are real omissions in the declaration. And we are working principally through the OPCW, which has a technical secretariat that is engaging with the Syrians on these issues. We are concerned, though, for two reasons: one, the reason you mention, of course, which is that extremist terrorist groups who have committed some of the most vile acts just in the last few days before our very eyes and who have terrorized everyone they come into contact with in Syria and Iraq, that these weapons, or weapon stocks, if they are left, could fall into their hands.

But let’s be clear. There is one actor that has actually used chemical weapons, in mass, killing, you know, thousands, or at least several thousands of people in the August 21 attack and many allegations of other use prior to the effort to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons program. So, there are two reasons or concerns about omissions, gaps, and discrepancies, and that’s why the Security Council intends to stay very much on top of this and to press them, to press both the international actors who continue to engage on the ground and to press those who have leverage over the regime, to be pushing the regime to be fully forthcoming.

Reporter: Thank you, Madame President. How worried are you about the possibility that the ISIS/ISIL has acquired some kind of chemical weapons? Also, your administration has been resisting international calls to interfere in Syria, militarily. Last week, Syria foreign minister offered cooperation with the US against the terrorists in his country. What does it take for the US to interfere in this conflict? Thank you.

Ambassador Power: Thank you. I’d say first that President Obama I think was pretty clear over the last couple days about his intention to galvanize an international coalition to degrade and destroy ISIL. Inherent in that is a recognition of the threat that ISIL poses everywhere. Certainly if there are chemical weapons left in Syria, there will be a risk that those weapons fall into ISIL’s hands. And we can only imagine what a group like that would do if in possession of such a weapon.

With regard to the Assad regime, I would say first of all that the actors on the ground who have fought over the last 7 months the most strenuously against ISIL have been the moderate opposition, have been the Sunni opposition groups. And so as the president has said, a critical complement to any effort, comprehensive effort, to deal with ISIL will involve strengthening those groups. And it is still our belief that the Assad regime – its brutality, the barrel bomb attacks, the possible chlorine use now, the previous chemical weapons attacks – these are recruiting tools that extremists have used to attract foreign terrorist fighters to Syria.

Tactics of the kind that they’re employing against civilians, against residential neighborhoods, against schools, are tactics that can never be consistent with a lasting peace. They’re terrorizing tactics. So you have on the one hand a monstrous terrorist group and you have on the other hand a monstrous group – a monstrous regime, rather, carrying out attacks that terrorize their own people, that kill civilians, that fire indiscriminately on areas that you know are going to affect the lives of civilians and kill and injure women and children and so forth. So as President Obama has said, the Syrian people should not have to choose between two forms of terror: terror inflicted by the regime and terror inflicted by ISIL.

Reporter: On chemical weapons again, given the discrepancies and the concern you have expressed, what happens exactly after September 30th? Is there any appetite on the Council for further action?

Ambassador Power: Again, there’s a process playing itself out, in – through the OPCW executive secretariat, where the concerns that we and other member states have are being raised. Some of them have been addressed at the margins by the regime up to this point, but there’s a process that’s ongoing. What is, was very clear in the Council session today among members states is while there was great appreciation of the work of Sigrid Kaag and the Joint Mission, who operated under impossible circumstances, you know, building the airplane as they were flying it, and who have succeeded in getting rid of nearly all of the declared chemical weapons — there’s just some destruction, again, as you know, that’s underway – there was a very strong desire on the part of Council members to stay on top of the gaps and declaration.

So you won’t see the Council oversight or the Council relationship to this issue abate after September 30th in any way. You will continue to see briefings, we will continue to interact with you on what we know and on what has been achieved, and what hasn’t been achieved. I mean, 2118 has not been fulfilled. And it won’t be fulfilled until this Council has confidence that the terms of the chemical weapons convention has been met.