UNITED NATIONS, December 16, (ITAR-TASS). U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Russia’s readiness to provide escort ships for vessels that will carry Syrian chemical weapons.
At first, chemical weapons have to be taken to Latakia where they will be loaded aboard ships for subsequent destruction at sea. The Norwegian and Danish authorities have agreed to provide vessels for the transportation of Syrian chemical weapons. Croatia has shown an interest in joining the operation too and agreed to provide its seaport for transferring the chemical weapons to a U.S. ship equipped for their destruction.
Some countries have voiced concern about the passage of ships with Syrian chemical weapons through their territorial waters, but Ban said work was underway to resolve all issues with a number of interested states taking part in the process. He urged all sides to be patient.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country would provide warships to escort vessels carrying Syrian chemical weapons.
“Practical steps are under discussion now to bring all of Syria’s toxic agents to one place. The Russian Federation will provide necessary means of transportation to solve this task.”
“These toxic agents have to be properly packed and then loaded aboard ships. Some of the EU countries are ready to provide such ships. We will be prepared to provide Russian Navy ships to escort those vessels with chemical substances in order to ensure the security of this operation,” the minister said.
“After that, the toxic agents will be transferred to the ship the United States is outfitting now where the bulk of the work will be done to destroy these chemical substances. This will be done in strict and full compliance with all environmental requirements,” Lavrov said.
Ban said he was engaged in consultations with U.N. member states to discuss possible measures to determine those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
He said the report prepared by the U.N. experts led by Swedish Professor Ake Sellstrom had confirmed the use of chemical weapons in Syria and should send a signal to the international community about the need to strengthen the global non-proliferation regime.
“Producing the final report of the U.N. Investigation Mission is an important achievement. But it should also serve as a wake-up call about the need to strengthen the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime. I count on the Security Council to take the lead in that effort,” Ban said.
“We are all now acutely aware that chemical weapons were used not only in the appalling August attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus, but also on several other occasions, including on a small scale, against civilians and military targets,” the Secretary-General said. “This new and broader knowledge should be of deep concern to all of us. Any use of chemical weapons, by anyone, under any circumstances, is a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other relevant rules of customary international law. The use of chemical weapons in Syria was a deplorable offense against the universal values of humankind.”
Ban stressed that “those responsible must be held accountable. The Security Council has said repeatedly that the use of weapons of mass destruction is a serious threat to international [peace] and security, and thus the Council has a primary role in bringing perpetrators to justice.”
“The international community has a moral and political responsibility to hold accountable those responsible, to deter future incidents and to ensure that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare,” he told the General Assembly as he presented to it the final report of the team led by Sellstrom.
“We must also do our utmost to achieve universal adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention. I urge all States that have not yet done so to sign, ratify and accede to this vital instrument without delay.” The team did not specify which party might have used the weapons in the nearly three-year old civil war between the Government and opposition fighters, since that was not part of its mandate.
“I deplore in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons in Syria as an offense against the universal values of humankind,” Ban said. “The international community continues to expect that the Syrian Arab Republic will implement faithfully its obligations related to the complete elimination of its chemical weapons programme by the first half of 2014, and that it will abide by global norms on disarmament and non-proliferation.”
However, Sellstrom said that it would take more efforts and resources to determine those responsible for the chemical attacks in Syria and would also require a new mandate different from the current one.
Sellstrom said the Mission had discharged its responsibilities as best as it could within its mandate, and using the mechanism and instruments that were available for its use.
He said the Mission had arrived at its conclusion - that chemical weapons had been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties - after investigating seven of the 16 allegations it received and reviewed. The methods used by the team ranged from interviews to the study of the epidemiological footprints to analysis of blood samples.
“I do not have at my disposal the necessary information to identify those responsible for attacks with chemical weapons that have taken place in Syria …we are a fact-finding mission,” Sellstrom said, adding: “We work with the Secretary-General’s mechanism, given to [him] by the General Assembly.”
With well over 100,000 people already killed in Syria, mostly with conventional weapons, Ban stressed his determination to seek an urgent end to the conflict. “Nearly half the population of Syria is either displaced or in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The conflict is having profound impacts on the stability and economy of the entire Middle East,” he said.
Ban said that “2013 was the year in which the Syrian conflict deteriorated beyond all imagination” and noted that “the people of Syria cannot afford another year, another month, even another day of brutality and destruction.”
U.N. agencies are now reaching millions of people with food, water, medicine, shelter and educational supplies. Following an outbreak of polio, in October and November, the U.N. vaccinated more than two million children against this disease and has now started distributing winter aid as a bulwark against the harsh winter conditions that are now taking hold.
At the same time, obstacles to access remain severe. “The unconscionable targeting of hospitals, other health facilities and medical personnel continues. And humanitarian appeals have been chronically underfunded throughout the conflict. The people of Syria need your governments and others to provide generous support at the pledging conference I am convening in Kuwait on January 15th. They also need your pressure on the Syrian sides to improve humanitarian access so that aid can reach all those in need,” Ban said.
The Secretary-General urged the international community help overcome the “severe and chronic underfunding of the relief effort” in Syria.
The 2014 appeal for Syria launched in Geneva on December 16 is the biggest in the history of the United Nations: 6.5 billion U.S. dollars to meet needs inside Syria and to help the more than two million people who have fled the country. “I call for generous support, including at the pledging conference I will convene on January 15 in Kuwait,” Ban said.
The Secretary-General said he would soon issue invitations to the International Conference on Syria to be convened on January 22, 2014.
“Everyone involved must do everything in their power to help the conference succeed,” he said.
Ban said that the conference would be the beginning of a process towards peace in Syria -- a process that would pave the way for a credible political transition.
“The aim is to implement the Geneva 1 Communique, which contains all the main elements for a political solution. There is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. The majority of the Syrian people want the fighting and violence to end,” he said.
The Secretary-General expressed hope for gestures of good will before the conference, to build confidence and diminish the suffering of the Syrian people. These could include a cease-fire or at least a lowering of the levels of violence; the granting of unimpeded humanitarian access; the release of prisoners and detainees, especially women and children; and the lifting of various sieges.
“There will be hurdles before the conference, and during the negotiations. The process is not expected to be brief, but neither should it be open-ended, he warned.
“I appeal to the Syrian authorities to end the violence and provide humanitarian access. I call on States and organisations with influence on the Syrian sides to help them prepare for constructive engagement,” he said.
“The people want and need a new Syria that reflects their needs and aspirations. I am convinced we can get there if all -- most importantly those with influence on the warring parties -- exert all possible efforts to help the Syrians reach the political solution that is the only way out of this tragedy,” Ban said.