For six years, the world has watched as the Syrian government and its leader, Bashar al-Assad, have terrorized its own people. It has murdered hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. It has broken international law and violated numerous UN resolutions. It has committed criminal acts that shock the conscience of all humanity. The international community has repeatedly expressed its outrage. The Joint Investigative Mechanism has found beyond any doubt that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against its own people multiple times. On Tuesday, the Assad regime launched yet another chemical attack on civilians, murdering innocent men, women, and children in the most gruesome way. Assad did this because he thought he could get away with it. He thought he could get away with it because he knew Russia would have his back. That changed last night.
As I warned on Wednesday, when the international community consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action. The indiscriminate use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians is one of those times. The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons. Our military destroyed the airfield from which this week’s chemical strike took place. We were fully justified in doing so. The moral stain of the Assad regime could no longer go unanswered. His crimes against humanity could no longer be met with empty words. It was time to say “enough,” but not only say it – it was time to act. Bashar al-Assad must never use chemical weapons again. Ever.
Now, while the Syrian regime is responsible for the chemical weapons attack, it is not the only guilty party. The Iranian government bears a heavy responsibility. It has propped up and shielded Syria’s brutal dictator for years. Iran continues to play a role in the bloodshed in Syria. The Russian government also bears considerable responsibility. Every time Assad has crossed the line of human decency, Russia has stood beside him. We had hoped the Security Council would move forward, but Russia made it known, as it has done seven times before, that it would use its veto once again, covering up for the Assad regime. Further delay by compromising with Russia for a watered down resolution would have only strengthened Assad. Strengthening Assad will only lead to more murders. We were not going to allow that.
But it’s even more than that. Russia is supposed to be a guarantor of the removal of chemical weapons from Syria. Think about that. Russia is supposed to have removed all the chemical weapons from Syria, but obviously that has not happened, as innocent Syrians continue to be murdered in chemical attacks. Let’s think about the possible reasons for Russia’s failure. It could be that Russia is knowingly allowing chemical weapons to remain in Syria. It could be that Russia has been incompetent in its efforts to remove the chemical weapons. Or, it could be that the Assad regime is playing the Russians for fools, telling them that there are no chemical weapons, all the while stockpiling them on their bases. The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria. The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar Assad.
The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences. Those days are over. But now we must move to a new phase, a drive toward a political solution to this horrific conflict. We expect the Syrian regime and its allies to take the UN political process seriously, something they have not done up until this point.
We expect Russia and Iran to hold their ally accountable and abide by the terms of the ceasefire. We expect this Council to speak loudly and forcefully when the regime or its allies undermine the political process and countless of our own resolutions.
The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary. It is time for all civilized nations to stop the horrors that are taking place in Syria and demand a political solution.