Ban Ki-moon welcomes Russia’s readiness to provide escort ships for 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 US 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 UN 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 UN 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.
The fighting in Syria must cease before political negotiations on a transitional government to restore peace to the war-ravaged country can commence, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday.
"We must have a cessation of hostilities before we begin political dialogue on Syria in Geneva," Ban told reporters in New York. "This fighting must stop."
Representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition fighting to oust him are scheduled to meet with peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi in Switzerland on Jan. 22 to discuss ways of ending the more than 2-1/2-year-old civil war.
Russia has offered warships to protect cargo vessels carrying Syrian chemical weapons to disposal facilities. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about this in Brussels Monday after emerging from a meeting with his counterparts in the EU. The disposal facilities are to be mounted on board an American naval vessel.
"The practical steps to concentrate all poisonous substances in one spot that Syria has are being discussed now. We, Russia, will provide necessary transport means to implement this task," Lavrov told reporters.
"Then these poisonous substances, should be loaded onto ships and a number of EU countries are ready to supply such ships, we will be ready to provide ships of the Russian fleet to accompany these vessels with poisonous substances in order to ensure the safety of this operation," Lavrov said.
"Then these relevant poisonous substances are reloaded on a ship, which is currently being equipped in the United States, and main works to destroy the poisonous chemical substances will be held on this vessel," the minister said.
Italy’s authorities will provide a port for the further transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons, the newspaper "Corriere della Sera" reported Monday, with a reference to Italy’s Foreign Ministry. It said that the chemical agent will be kept in one of the Italian ports to be later shipped on an American ship "Cape Ray", where they will be destroyed, the newspaper said.
It is not yet clear what port is meant here. According to a source in the Italian Defence Ministry, there is reason to believe that it will be Sicily or Sardinia, the newspaper says.
It is planned that Danish and Norwegian ships will be used for the transfer of the Syrian chemical weapons from Latakia. Then it will be put on an American ship. Earlier the OPCW organization announced that a schedule for the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons would be adopted before the middle of next year. According to the OPCW plan, the chemical weapons must be taken away from Syria before February 5th and scrapped by June 30th, except isopropanol, which is used for the production of sarin.
UN experts have made public the conclusions of their report on the use of the weapon of mass destruction in Syria. They reached the conclusion on studying the evidence available that Sarin has been used in Syria at least five times over the past year. But they were not authorized to find out, which of the warring factions actually resorted to war chemicals.
According to the international experts' report, posted on to the website of the UN Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, they studied seven reports on the use of chemical weapons in Syria from March to August 2013.
The experts found out that Sarin had been used in five cases out of the seven. But the authors of the report made no attempt to establish whether it was the government troops or the opposition that used the weapon of mass destruction. The editor-in-chief of the Military-Industrial Courier weekly, Mikhail Khodaryonok, says he is certain that the task had not been not assigned to them.
"It is pretty easy to find out who exactly used war chemicals in Syria. Proceeding from the fact that al-Assad's troops have missiles with chemical warheads that can be fired by multiple-launched rocket systems, as well as chemical artillery shells and toxic bombs, we may understand whether Bashar al-Assad used war chemicals or not. But let's recall that when Ancient Romans wanted to find the culprit responsible for a particular crime, they asked a simple question, Cui Prodest, or Who Stands to Gain from it? And if we ask that question when considering the use of war chemicals in Syria we will understand that the opposition would profit much more by using such weapons, since they are losing the standoff, so they would gain from any interference in the conflict by other countries," Khodaryonok said.
Meanwhile, the western countries have largely changed their stand on the developments in Syria recently.
The Syrian opposition can no longer rely on an all-out support by the United States and some EU countries.
Moscow has repeatedly called its foreign partners’ attention to the fact that it is Islamists of various degree of radicalism, rather than the champions of civil rights and democracy that "play the first fiddle" within the framework of al-Assad's opposition.
The West seems to have finally realized this, since the United States and the UK have recently decided against the illegal supplies of military hardware to Syrian rebels.
The decision has been prompted by the seizure by the Islamic Front radical group of the moderate Free Syrian Army's military supply depot. A PIR-Centre expert, Alexander Chekov, has this comment.
"Conflicts have been sparked off increasingly often inside the Syrian opposition lately. The radical elements, Islamists, have been coming into conflicts with the moderate part of the Syrian opposition. The West has for that reason stopped talking about the unity of the opposition, and stopped playing off al-Assad against the Syrian opposition. Instead, whenever referring to rebels now, they name specific groups of militants. Secondly, the western countries have come to realize that what aid they provide the Syrian opposition with lands in the hands of Islamists. The West is gradually growing aware that by continuing to fund al-Assad’s enemies, they are making stronger the radical opposition, rather than the moderate opposition elements. Now, this serves to further exacerbate the conflict," Chekov said.
Other countries, too, increasingly share Moscow's stand on the Syrian problem. On the one hand, few are disputing today the assertion that the Syrian conflict has nothing to do with a fight for democracy.
On the other hand, the stiff and consistent moves by Russian diplomats have prompted respectful comments on Moscow's moves in question even from the patrons of al-Assad's enemies, - the Persian Gulf monarchies.
The Crown Prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, has said recently thatby ensuring the cancellation of a US strike on Syria, the Russians proved that they are reliable friends.
At the same time, the Sheikh spoke disdainfully of Washington's Middle East policy, insisting that the policy in question lacks any long-term strategy altogether.
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