Thursday, November 21, 2019
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Remarks at the 73rd UNGA First Committee Thematic Discussion on Other Weapons of Mass Destruction

The last time we gathered in this chamber to discuss key items under this important agenda item, the United States along with every other responsible nation acknowledged the harsh reality that the Chemical Weapons Convention and the international norm against the use of chemical weapons was under direct assault by those States and non-State actors that continue to use these abhorrent weapons without thought, sentience or remorse.

The value of the CWC and of any arms control, nonproliferation or disarmament agreement is strict adherence to, and compliance with them, by states parties. Further, lack of accountability for flouting international obligations breeds impunity and undermines arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament.

Unfortunately, there is no region in the world immune to chemical weapons use. The chemical agent VX was used to assassinate Kim Jong-Nam in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 13, 2017. The Assad regime continues to flout its international obligations and the standards of basic humanity by repeatedly using chemical weapons against its own people resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries - with Russia and Iran shamelessly shielding the Assad regime from consequences in international fora, as evidenced by Russian intransigence to renew the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism responsible for attributing CW use in Syria.

Earlier this year Russia itself used chemical weapons in its brazen assassination attempt against the Skripals in the town of Salisbury using a military-grade nerve agent, referred to as a Novichok, in blatant violation of its international obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. This use further confirms long-held U.S. concerns that Russia has not met its obligations under the CWC to declare its entire CW program.

Like Russia, Iran has repeatedly worked to protect Syria from international censure for the Assad regime's horrific use of chemical weapons. The United States has had long-standing concerns about Iran's own compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. We have observed Iran's behavior closely, we have detected irregularities in its declaration, and we have received insufficient responses to numerous inquiries, which is why, since 2001, we have been unable to certify that Iran has been in compliance with its obligations under the CWC. The United States is also concerned that Iran is pursuing central nervous system acting chemicals for offensive purposes. Iran's actions are contrary to the CWC and must be addressed.

Further, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has used industrial chemicals and sulfur mustard in both Iraq and Syria in recent years. Chemical weapons terrorism can affect us all, and we must work together to stop it. The international community recognizes that these horrific acts are reprehensible and must end.

Certainly, member States have expressed deep concern about such events, and understand that such an unprecedented disregard for the rule of law and the global norm against the use of chemical weapons requires an unprecedented response to restore and preserve these principles. On June 27, responsible nations collectively and overwhelmingly delivered that response by endorsing decisive action to counter these threats and to renew their solemn commitment to a world free of chemical weapons at the Fourth Special Session of the Conference of the States Parties.

The historic decision calls for a number of key actions, to include directing the Technical Secretariat to put in place arrangements to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria and further underscores the importance of identifying the perpetrators for any chemical weapons attack. To that end, the decision authorizes the OPCW Director-General to provide technical assistance to national investigations, if requested by the State Party, with respect to attributing responsibility. It is essential that we as States Parties to the CWC stand together and recognize this important role of the OPCW Technical Secretariat identified by the Conference of the States Parties decision, and ensure its full and effective implementation. Such a commitment is crucial as we look to end CW use and further strengthen the OPCW to take on future challenges.

Mr. Chairman, it is for this very reason that the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands recently submitted a proposal to the OPCW Director-General to add Novichok chemical families to Schedule 1 of the Annex of Chemicals. These agents are military-grade nerve agents with no other use than to harm or kill, as seen in the UK towns of Salisbury and Amesbury. We call on all responsible states to support this proposal so that these chemicals can be subject to the CWC's rigorous verification.

Mr. Chairman, as we look ahead to the Fourth CWC Review Conference, the United States is committed and sees this as an opportunity to reinforce the work outlined in the June CSP decision to strengthen the OPCW. The RevCon also provides an opportunity to finally address the threat posed by central nervous system-acting chemicals, such as fentanyl. These chemicals have no use outside of a controlled medical setting. The United States and many other States Parties are seriously concerned that some States may be deliberately developing these chemicals for warfare or for other harmful purposes. The United States reiterates its call for a non-use policy regarding aerosolisation of CNS-acting chemicals.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to this threat while claiming to be working toward a world truly free of chemical weapons. We must not acquiesce to non-compliance by States Parties of the CWC. We have to call out such concerns and address them accordingly.

The Chemical Weapons Convention is a remarkable achievement in the progress of humanity. We all must fight for it and, without exception, expose those who use chemical weapons and hold them accountable. As States Parties, we are entrusted with a solemn responsibility which demands that, in our words and in our actions, we defend and advance the shared vision of a world free of chemical weapons. Silence and inaction only further embolden those who seek to maintain an offensive CW program; and look to use such weapons to the detriment of all mankind. As responsible nations, we must be unwavering in our resolve on such matters; and have the courage of our convictions to collectively banish the scourge of chemical weapons forever to the past.

Mr. Chairman, the other treaty that bans an entire category of weapons of mass destruction is, of course, the Biological Weapons Convention, one of our most important tools to prevent the use of disease as a weapon of war. The United States and other States Parties to the Convention were pleased to have adopted at last year's annual meeting, after a one-year delay, a new and constructive program of work. This program provides for five experts groups covering all aspects of the BWC.

Those groups met for the first time in August, and their deliberations were serious and substantive, with numerous useful proposals put forward. Unfortunately, some Parties continue to block movement on essentially any idea but the resumption of negotiations on a new legal instrument related to the BWC. My government, and those of many other Parties, believe differently � that we should act now to strengthen the Convention in areas on which there is substantial consensus.

Fortunately, such consensus may exist on a broad range of important topics, such as improving our collective ability to assess biological risks, strengthening confidence-building measures, cooperating to improve implementation, enhancing transparency, and organizing ourselves to provide assistance in the event a BWC becomes a victim of the use of biological weapons. We simply do not accept that opportunities to strengthen the Convention as a bulwark against biological threats should be held up by a debate over the merits of a new treaty, one that would take many years to negotiate.

An even more pressing problem for the BWC is its financial crisis. As we meet today, the fact that some States Parties have not made their BWC contributions � in some cases for many years � leaves in doubt whether we have the funding to hold our annual meeting in December for the planned four days. Beyond December, we face possibly an even greater problem � inadequate funding for the salaries of the highly talented ISU staff of the small BWC Implementation Support Unit (ISU). For these reasons, it is critical that those Parties in arrears on their payments rectify that situation immediately.

Mr. Chairman, to close on an upbeat note, we are delighted to welcome the new States Parties that have joined the BWC this year - the Central African Republic and Niue.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Source: US Department of State