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Ladies and Gentlemen,I am pleased to join you for my traditional press conference as we kick-off the 68th session of the General Assembly.This is a crucial period for global cooperation.Syria is the biggest peace, security and humanitarian challenge we face.Let us be clear: the use of chemical weapons in Syria is only the tip of the iceberg.The suffering in Syria must end. Next week, as world leaders gather here, I will make a strong appeal to Member States for action now.Many other issues on our agenda also merit urgent attention – not only other conflicts but also important questions of sustainable development, health, hunger and climate change. I understand that you had a good press conference with the President of the General Assembly. Over the coming days, we will put a spotlight on these, as well.At least 131 Heads of State or Government will be here next week -- one of the highest turnouts in United Nations history. At least 60 Foreign Ministers will join them.I will meet with as many world leaders as I can. I am determined to pack a lot into these encounters. We have much to discuss.In my speech to the General Assembly, I will call on world leaders to uphold their political and moral responsibilities to serve, to listen, to invest, to respond to the rising and justifiable demands of people across the world for lives of freedom and prosperity.We are moving ahead at full steam towards the crucial year of 2015, the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. We will showcase MDG successes throughout the week and at a special partnership event on Monday.The global discussion on the post-2015 development agenda is also well under way. I will use next Wednesday’s special event to officially launch my report, “A Life of Dignity for All”, which contains my vision of the transformations we need.This month will also see the release of another critical report: the latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Its message will surprise no one: the heat is on all of us.I also want to stress the importance of the very first event of the week: the Assembly’s high-level session on disabilities and development. Fifteen per cent of the world’s people – a huge portion of humankind – live with some form of disability. The post-2015 agenda must take their needs and aspirations into account. A world that recognizes their rights is a world that will benefit all of us.The situations in Afghanistan, Egypt, Mali and the Central African Republic will also be high on the agenda, as we assess new approaches we are taking in peacekeeping, diplomacy and support for countries in transition.We will hold a meeting of the oversight mechanism for the peace agreement that the United Nations brokered earlier this year for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Great Lakes Region. And the Middle East Quartet will meet for the first time in more than a year to support the resumed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.The next week or two will bring many opportunities for common progress. But success will depend on ever deeper levels of cooperation – and contributions from our partners.In that spirit, I look forward to joining Stevie Wonder and thousands of other good friends of the United Nations at the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park. I hope you will all join that event. We will raise our voices for action against poverty – the number one struggle of our time.We have a full agenda. But the events of the past days have shown once again the power of the United Nations to uncover the facts – to resolve differences – to help avoid bloodshed and forge consensus for peace and progress.We must harness that spirit for action to address our immediate crises and achieve our longer-term goals.Thank you for your attention.
The Council heard this morning from the Secretary General on the findings of Dr. Sellstrom and his team of chemical weapons experts. Before I say anything else, let me do as I assume my colleagues has done which is to express the great admiration that the United States has and President Obama has personally for the inspectors who put their lives on the line to try to bring back this evidence so the world would know what happened on August 21st.
It is no secret that they ran into significant security problems on the ground, but that did not stop them from moving forward. And again, seeking and in the end succeeding in bringing this important information back. So we have great admiration for them.
As you have already heard from the Secretary General and from my colleague Ambassador Lyall Grant, the UN report confirms unmistakably that chemical weapons were used in Syria on August 21st.
Now, the mandate of the chemical weapons team, was as you well know, not to investigate culpability, but the technical details of the UN report make clear that only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack. We will analyze the UN’s findings in greater detail, very carefully.
But based on our preliminary review, I will note one particular observation. We have associated one type of munition cited in the UN report – 122mm rockets – with previous regime attacks. We have reviewed thousands of open source videos related to the current conflict in Syria and have not observed the opposition manufacturing or using this style of rocket.
In addition, and I just want to underscore something that Ambassador Lyall Grant shared, Mr. Sellstrom noted in response to a question from Russia that the quality of the sarin was higher than that of the sarin used in Saddam Hussein’s program. Again, higher than the quality of that used in Saddam Hussein’s program. Mr. Sellstrom also stated that the weapons obtained on the site, on the scene of this monstrous crime, were professionally made. He said that they bore none of the characteristics of improvised weapons.
We understand some countries did not accept on faith that the samples of blood and hair that the United States received from people affected by the August 21 attack contained sarin. But now Dr. Sellstrom’s samples show the same thing.
And it’s very important to note that the regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin.
Let me also remind you of what we know coming into today's briefing. In the days before the attack, Assad’s chemical weapons experts prepared for an attack. They distributed gas masks to regime troops. They fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 12 neighborhoods that the regime had been trying to clear of opposition forces. And here again I want to underscore, it defies logic to think that the opposition would have infiltrated the regime-controlled area to fire on opposition-controlled areas. And again, it also is worth underscoring that this is the largest chemical weapons attack in 25 years. And that is something that the Secretary General stressed. The largest attack since Halabja.
As I have found over the last weeks, the more countries around the world are confronted with the hard facts of what occurred on August 21, the more they recognize that the steep price of impunity for Assad could extend well beyond Syria. That is why President Obama sought to mobilize the international community to act to deter and degrade Assad’s ability to use or proliferate these weapons.
In one week, the United States has made great progress in our effort to bring these weapons under international control. This substantial progress could not have been achieved without the threat of force and President Obama’s decision to explore this diplomatic path.
The framework reached between the United States and Russia provides a path for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in a transparent, expeditious, and verifiable manner, which could end the threat that these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people, but to the region and the world.
Let me say a word, building on Ambassador Lyall Grant’s comments, about next steps. Action moves now to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague and here to New York. The United States and Russia are presenting a draft decision to the OPCW, which calls for special measures for stringent verification and an accelerated timeline for destruction.
Meanwhile, the US and Russia have agreed to support a Security Council resolution to reinforce the anticipated decision of the OPCW Executive Council, provide for verification and effective implementation, and request the Secretary General recommend to the Security Council the appropriate UN role in eliminating Syria’s CW program. We also agreed, as you know, that in the event of Syria’s non-compliance, unauthorized transfer or CW use by anyone, that we will impose measures under Chapter VII.
Let me be clear. The US position has been consistent throughout this process and will remain so going forward. We have insisted on a plan for the removal and destruction of chemical weapons that is timely, transparent, credible and verifiable. The obligations on the Syrian government must be clearly established. And this effort must be enforceable.
We believe the US-Russia framework, if fully implemented, can achieve this. We also think it can lay the foundation for a political solution to the underlying conflict and keep the political process moving forward toward Geneva II. The question before the Security Council today is whether we will shoulder the responsibility of agreeing to take the kind of credible, binding action demanded by this horrible event. And that is the decision we must make.
"This is a war crime. It is the worst use of chemical weapons on civilians in the 21st century""I urged UNSC to act immediately. After two and half years of tragedy, it is time for UNSC to show leadership""Communities who once lived in relative harmony are now torn by sectarian division""I hope this will serve as a wake-up call""It is for others to decide [who is responsible] for this crime [but] they must be held responsible"
In transmitting simultaneously to the Security Council and the General Assembly thereport on the incident which took place on 21 August 2013 in the Ghouta area ofDamascus (see annex), the Secretary-General expresses his profound shock and regret atthe conclusion that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale, resulting innumerous casualties, particularly among civilians and including many children. TheSecretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weaponsand believes that this act is a war crime and grave violation of the 1925 Protocol for theProhibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and ofBacteriological Methods of Warfare and other relevant rules of customary internationallaw. The international community has a moral responsibility to hold accountable thoseresponsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrumentof warfare.
"This agreement, an achievement of Russian diplomats and the Russian leadership, is a victory for Syria won thanks to our Russian friends," Ali Haidar told Russian news agency RIA."We welcome this agreement. From one point of view, it will help Syrians exit the crisis, from another, it has prevented a war against Syria, having taken away the pretext for one from those who wanted to unleash (it)," he said.It was not clear if the comments by Ali Haidar, who is not in President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle of decision-makers, reflects the president's views.