Lavrov: UN Syria resolution holds both sides accountable for any chem weapons use

Lavrov: UN Syria resolution holds both sides accountable for any chem weapons use
The UN Security Council resolution on Syria clearly states that both the Syrian government and the opposition must refrain from any future use of chemical weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with Russia’s Channel One TV.

Channel One:How difficult was it to come to an agreement with the US this time, while working on the UN Security Council draft resolution on Syria?

Sergey Lavrov: It was not easy. But we made sure that the draft resolution, which has been compiled in support of another document prepared by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – both documents [are] to be adopted today in The Hague and in New York – follows the principles of the Geneva accords that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and myself reached on September 14.

The key principle is that the OPCW experts will play the leading role, while the UN will provide additional support, particularly by providing additional personnel, if necessary, and, most importantly, by ensuring the security of the experts deployed to the chemical weapons storage sites disclosed by the Syrian government. Of course, the details of this work are yet to be agreed, and this is why the resolution commissions the UN Secretary General to work with the OPCW Director General and prepare detailed guidelines. There is also another crucial point: the resolution says that security measures are to be arranged in cooperation with the Syrian government, but also that the Syrian opposition will be held accountable in case it endangers OPCW experts. And this is a matter of principle.

C1:We have had situations in the past when UN resolutions were open to interpretation, as was the case with Libya. The resolution spoke of a no-fly zone; it said nothing about air strikes against government forces. Nonetheless, air strikes followed. Isn’t there a risk that certain parties may try and interpret the current resolution in their own way?

SL: I’ll put it this way: the possibility of any party citing the current resolution as a pretext for the use of force is out of question. The resolution on Libya was based on Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which provides for a number of enforcement measures ranging from warnings to sanctions and, ultimately, to the use of force. This chapter was repeatedly suggested by our European and US partners as the basis for the resolution. We are categorically against this. We have learned the lesson of Libya and, knowing the capabilities of our partners to interpret the UN Security Council resolutions, we wanted to make sure there are no pretexts or “loopholes” that can be used to justify a similar course of action with respect to Syria. This resolution absolutely rules out the use of force and in fact any use of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. This is verified by the fact that the closing section of the resolution says that if any of the Syrian parties, be it the government or the opposition, should interfere with the work of the experts or use chemical weapons, such incidents are to be immediately reported to the UN Security Council and investigated. In case any of the parties are proved to be guilty of a violation, the UN Security Council will address the situation based on Chapter 7. In other words, the possibility of invoking Chapter 7 has been moved into the future and this will certainly require a new resolution, and, again, the violation has to be proved with compelling evidence.

Residents of Syria's eastern town of Deir Ezzor walk past the debris of a building reportedly hit by a missile (AFP Photo / Ahmad Aboud)

C1:What measures are being considered in regard to the opposition, as there were opinions voiced that it might also have chemical weapons?

SL: Not only they might, they do possess such weapons, and the evidence of that is piling up. Just a few days ago we learned of an intercepted phone conversation between two rebels, which was also published by Kommersant. We raised this issue with our colleagues from the US and Western Europe, as well as the other states supporting the opposition, and asked them to demand that their “fosterlings” refrain from any further attempts to lay their hands on chemical weapons or components thereof, let alone use chemical weapons, as we know that the opposition in Syria has more than once tried to pull off such false flag operations.

So, those who support and directly sponsor the opposition bear particular responsibility to make sure such provocative actions never happen again.

I want to stress this again: The draft resolution lays responsibility on all Syrian parties, both the government and the opposition, to not use the chemical weapons. Furthermore, the resolution says it is unacceptable for chemical weapons to fall into the hands of non-government actors, which is what the rebels basically are. It is particularly stressed that all UN member states and especially Syria’s neighbors must take all necessary measures for their territory not to be used to supply the opposition with chemical weapons or their components.

C1:Once the OPCW secures control over all the chemical weapons, will the entire stockpile be destroyed? Or may part of it be moved, or kept in a safe place?

SL: In keeping with the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Syrian government provided an inventory disclosing chemical weapons sites. OPCW experts, Russia, the EU and the US have acknowledged that the inventory is more than satisfactory. The US told us that on a [scale of A to E] this inventory would be B+. Of course, any inventory has to be verified, and this is why OPCW inspectors will go to Syria within the next few days, where they will work with the Syrian authorities to take control of chemical weapons sites and verify the information they have received. I do not rule out that there could be some corrections but I repeat, experts have agreed that the bulk of the Syrian inventory looks quite credible and provides them with enough material to get their work started.

C1:Going back to the opposition, Russia has more than once claimed to have proof that the opposition had chemical weapons and presented this evidence to the UN. Has this intelligence been published?

SL: Yes, it has been published. Our report on the Aleppo incident of March 19 is available to all the members of the UN Security Council, and I think it is even available to the general public. It is a very professional report, and we have no doubt that the sarin gas used in the March 19 attack near Aleppo was homemade. Also, we have intelligence that the chemical weapon used in the infamous August 21 incident was sarin gas of roughly the same origin as the chemical used on March 19, only in a higher concentration. We sent this data to our US partners and the UN Secretariat. The Syrian government supplied us with the data they had, showing the opposition’s involvement in a number of incidents where chemical weapons were used. All these materials require careful examination.

We do not try to unjustly claim a monopoly on the truth. It has to be established through careful examination of every incident, and the results of this investigation should be reported to the UN Security Council, as the G8 leaders agreed at the summit in Northern Ireland this June. So it is strange that the leaders of some G8 countries say that it was clearly the Syrian government that used chemical weapons on August 21; that this was a crime against humanity, and that no further investigation is necessary. This goes against the agreement the leaders of all the G8 countries reached in June, when they said all reports of chemical weapons use should be reviewed collectively in the UN Security Council after a professional investigation. We will insist on following this procedure in the future as well.

C1:Why did it take weeks to reach an agreement?

SL: I do not want to sound incorrect in regard to our partners at the talks, but we had to do everything possible to ensure there were no deviations from the Geneva Communiqué, and this took some time.