Ban: Syrian use of chemical weapons would have “dire consequences”
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today voiced alarm about Syria’s possible use of chemical weapons in the course of the country’s worsening civil war, saying that Syria’s resort to this arsenal would constitute an "outrageous crime with dire consequences." Speaking in advance of a high-level U.N. meeting on the prohibition of chemical weapons, the U.N. ...
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today voiced alarm about Syria's possible use of chemical weapons in the course of the country's worsening civil war, saying that Syria's resort to this arsenal would constitute an "outrageous crime with dire consequences."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today voiced alarm about Syria’s possible use of chemical weapons in the course of the country’s worsening civil war, saying that Syria’s resort to this arsenal would constitute an "outrageous crime with dire consequences."
Speaking in advance of a high-level U.N. meeting on the prohibition of chemical weapons, the U.N. chief today reiterated his call — first delivered weeks ago in a letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — on Damascus to ensure the "safety and security" of the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.
The remarks came three days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed concern that a small portion of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal may have gone missing during a transfer from one the country’s secured chemical weapons sites. Panetta said Syrian authorities had moved the chemical weapons to ensure their security at a time when the government is battling a major armed insurgency. Panetta said that while most of Syria’s chemical weapons sites were secure, he could not confirm whether the materials transferred by the government had fallen into the hands of opposition forces or Iranian forces inside the country.
It remained unclear whether Ban was simply expressing concern about the humanitarian fallout of a chemical weapons attack against Syrians or foreign governments opposed to the Assad regime, or whether he was referring to the potential of a withering military response by the United States or other Western governments in the event that the Syrian government used such weapons.
The remarks came just hours after the U.N. chief met behind closed doors with Syria’s foreign minister, Walid Mouallem. Following the meeting, which took place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly debate, Ban scolded Mouallem for his government’s "killings, massive destruction, human rights abuses, and aerial and artillery attacks" against Syrian populations, and urged him to "show compassion" to Syrians who "were being killed everyday," according to a statement from Ban’s office.
In a speech this afternoon before the U.N. General Assembly, Mouallem made no reference to Syria’s chemical weapons program. Instead, he delivered a combative speech, accusing the United States and its allies of abetting terrorism in Syria and blatantly interfering in the country’s internal affairs. He also claimed that the Syrian refugee crisis has been "fabricated" by armed groups seeking to exploit their plight to raise funds for their cause.
The Syrian diplomat’s speech offered a starkly different account of realities on the ground in Syria than that described by Syrian activists, foreign journalists, the United Nations, and most Arab and Western governments, who have blamed the Syrian armed forces, and government-backed militias, for driving more than 300,000 refugees into neighboring countries, including Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey.
In contrast, Moallem urged Syrian refugees to make the trek back to Syria, promising that his government would "guarantee their safe return and their precious lives away from inhuman conditions they suffer in these camps."
"While my government is working hard to meet the basic needs of citizens who have been forced by the violence of the armed groups to flee their homes, some have sought to fabricate a refugee crisis through inciting armed groups to intimidate Syrian civilians in border areas and forcing them to flee to neighboring countries," Mouallem said. "There they are either accommodated in military training camps, or in what resembles places of detention, aimed arid or rugged regions, and exploit their plight to get aid spent mostly on goals that have no relevance to humanitarian objectives."
One Security Council diplomat dismissed the Syrian official’s speech as "predictable" but "totally out of touch with reality. His points on the refugee crisis were breathtaking in their cynicism. How can he blame others for the displacement of millions while the Syrian regime is using indiscriminate shelling, aircraft and helicopter gun-ships and militia to terrorize civilians."
Mouallem acknowledged no role by Damascus in precipitating the violence in Syria, which began 19 months ago with a violent government crackdown on peaceful anti-government protesters. The conflict has since evolved into a civil war that has left more than 30,000 dead, driven 1 million from their homes and force hundreds of thousands more to flee to safety.
Mouallem told foreign delegates in New York on the final day of the U.N. General Assembly debate that his government’s policies enjoy the backing of the Syrian people, and that President Assad’s government remains committed to a "constructive dialogue" with the opposition in "the making of the present and the future of Syria." "The bond is very strong in my country between state policies and the aspirations of the people," Mouallem said. He said the government is currently working with "patriotic components in the opposition to build a new and pluralistic Syria that responds to the aspirations of its people."
The Syrian diplomat said, however, that his country is the victim of a neocolonial scheme, organized by the United States and its European and Arab allies, and aimed at imposing "hegemony and domination" over Syria. He said that Western-backed sanctions — which impose hardship on ordinary Syrians – were harming the people they are purporting to protect. And he accused the United States and Britain — "who launched wars under the pretext of combating terrorism" — of now supporting "terrorism in my country." Under the pretext of humanitarian interventions, he said the "drums of war are beaten, and sedition and unrest are spreading."
The U.S. mission to the United Nations did not respond to request for comment.
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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