Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Izumi, for your briefing.
The news out of Syria this morning is following a troubling pattern. There are reports of yet another chemical weapons attack on Sunday. Victims of what appears to be chlorine gas are pouring into hospitals.
Few things have horrified my country and the world as much as the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against its people. This Council has been outspoken on ending Syria’s use of chemical weapons, and yet, they continue.
Under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Security Council Resolution 2118, the Assad regime’s obligations are clear: it must immediately stop using all chemical weapons. It must address the gaps and inconsistencies in its Chemical Weapons Convention declaration. And it must destroy all of its remaining chemical weapons under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
These are worthy goals. These are urgent goals. And yet, we spent much of last year in this Council watching one country protect the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons by refusing to hold them responsible.
So what do the American people see? What do people of all countries see? They see a Council that can’t agree to take action, even after the investigative mechanism created by this Council found that the Assad regime used chemical weapons.
Now, we have reports that the Assad regime has used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday. There is obvious evidence from dozens of victims. So we proposed a Security Council press statement condemning these attacks.
So far Russia has delayed the adoption of this statement – a simple condemnation of Syrian children being suffocated by chlorine gas. I hope Russia takes the appropriate step to adopt this text, showing the Council is unified in condemning chemical weapons attacks.
Accountability is a fundamental principle. But it’s just the first step. Our goal must be to end the use of these evil, unjustifiable weapons. When actions have consequences – when perpetrators are identified and punished – we come closer to reaching our goal. But if we can’t even take the first step of establishing accountability for chemical weapons use, we have to seriously ask ourselves why we are here.
The requirements for establishing accountability for chemical weapons use have not changed since this Council voted unanimously to create the Joint Investigative Mechanism in 2015. They have not changed since Russia acted alone to kill that mechanism last year.
Such a mechanism must be independent and impartial. It must be free of politics. It must be controlled by experts, not politicians or diplomats. And it must be definitive.
The latest Russian draft resolution does not meet any of these criteria. Russia’s draft resolution completely ignores the findings of the JIM, which was an investigation that Russia supported until the investigators found Assad regime to be responsible. That should already be enough to make us skeptical. But there are other deep problems. For their new investigation, Russia wants to be able to cherry pick the investigators. It wants to insert unnecessary and arbitrary investigative standards. And it wants the Security Council to be able to review all of the findings of this investigation and decide what makes it into the final report. This is not an impartial mechanism. It is a way to whitewash the findings of the last investigation that Russia desperately wants to bury. No one should believe this draft resolution is a good basis for discussion when it is designed to undermine our core principles on chemical weapons. We cannot hope to end the use of chemical weapons if those who use them escape the consequences of their actions.
And so, while we regret the need for its creation, we applaud the efforts of France to launch the International Partnership Against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons. This is yet another way to hold accountable the Assad regime and any group who uses chemical weapons.
The United States has also announced that we will contribute to the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism on international crimes committed in Syria – the IIIM. The United States strongly supports the IIIM as a valuable tool to hold the Assad regime accountable for its atrocities, including its repeated and ongoing use of chemical weapons.
It’s a true tragedy that Russia has sent us back to square one in the effort to end chemical weapons use in Syria. But we will not cease in our efforts to know the truth of the Assad regime and ensure that that truth is known and acted on by the international community.
That is why we hosted all 15 members of this Council at the U.S. Holocaust Museum last week. The exhibit was called: “Syria: Please Don’t Forget Us.” All of us saw undeniable evidence of the Assad regime’s atrocities and human rights violations. We cannot and should not forget the Syrian people. The United States will not forget them.
While this Council has not yet been able to act to provide real accountability for chemical weapons use in Syria, the United States will not give up on the responsibility to do so.
This is the sincere wish of the American people, and I know that is shared by many in this Council today. We are not motivated by score-settling or pay-back or power politics. We are motivated by the urgent need to end the unique and horrible suffering chemical weapons inflict on innocent men, women, and children of Syria. The Syrian people are counting on us.