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CONFERENCE ON DISARMAMENT DISCUSSES SITUATION IN THE KOREAN PENINSULA, MISSILE ATTACKS AGAINST SYRIA, AND WITHDRAWAL OF THE UNITED STATES FROM THE IRAN DEAL

President of the Conference on Disarmament Says the Subsidiary Bodies Will Start Meeting in Private this Week
15 May 2018

The Conference on Disarmament this morning held the first plenary of the second part of its 2018 session and discussed the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula, the 13 and 14 April missile attacks against Syria by the United States, the United Kingdom and France, and the withdrawal of the Unites States from the Iran nuclear deal. 

At the beginning of the meeting, Sabrina Dallafior, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, welcomed four new Permanent Representatives to the Conference on Disarmament, namely those of Australia, Morocco, Republic of Korea and Sri Lanka.  She then informed that the subsidiary bodies would be meeting from 15 to 18 May in private, and that they would follow an intense schedule until the end of June.   

Speaking in the plenary were the delegations of Australia, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, France, Syria, United States, Russian Federation, Bulgaria on behalf of the European Union, Iran and China. 

With respect to the latest developments on the Korean Peninsula, delegations welcomed the news that the United States–Democratic People’s Republic of Korea summit would be held in Singapore on 12 June 2018, and expressed hope that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would honour its commitment to complete denuclearization under the Panmunjom Declaration.  The Republic of Korea noted that the latest events represented a comprehensive and ground-breaking opening of cooperation between the two Koreas, for eliminating the danger of war, as well as cooperation for complete denuclearization.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said it had declared in April 2018 that it would discontinue its nuclear tests and dismantle the test site in May 2018 to ensure transparency.  The discontinuation of nuclear tests and follow-up measures were an important process for global disarmament and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would join international desire and efforts for a total ban on nuclear tests. 

As for the missile strikes on Syria on 13 and 14 April 2018, the United Kingdom explained that it had had no choice but to conclude that diplomatic action on its own was not going to work.  The United Kingdom’s Government had agreed that it was not only morally right but also legally right to take military action to alleviate further humanitarian suffering.  The military action had been a limited and effective strike that would significantly degrade the Syrian chemical weapons capabilities and deter their future use, with clear boundaries that had expressly sought to avoid escalation and had done everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.  Recalling that the attack in Douma had killed dozens of civilians and that it had been in complete violation of the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, France stressed that it could not tolerate the banalization of the use of chemical weapons, which posed a direct danger to the Syrian people and collective international security.  The United States reminded that the Assad regime’s history of use of chemical weapons against its own people was not in dispute.  It was critical that Assad be held accountable for crimes against his own people.  Syria, on the other hand, regretted that the representatives of France and the United Kingdom still insisted on using the Conference on Disarmament to taint the Syrian Government and conduct propaganda based on unsubstantiated evidence.  Western countries had provided cover for terrorist groups and had turned a blind eye to the fact that those terrorist groups owned chemical weapons.  They seemed to want to block any political advancement in Syria and use it for their own agenda.  The Russian Federation reminded that the missile strikes on Syria had taken place before the inspection by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons could take place.  It would have been more logical to wait for the Organization’s conclusions. 

On the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, Bulgaria, on behalf of the European Union, deeply regretted the announcement by President Trump to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  The agreement, which had been unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council resolution 2231, was a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and it was crucial for the security in the region.  As long as Iran continued to implement its nuclear-related commitments, the European Union would remain committed to the continued full and effective implementation of the nuclear deal.  The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions was an essential part of the agreement, the European Union stated.  Iran said that by expressing false and unsubstantiated allegations, the United States was trying to force other partners to pull out from the agreement.  Nevertheless, Iran was committed to the agreement, and it would negotiate with the remaining partners.  For its part, the United States said that the deal had not regulated Iran’s behaviour.  Instead, Iran had become more aggressive under the cover of the deal. 

Australia noted that with divergent interests and shifts in power between States, it was more difficult to respond collectively to security challenges.  In that context, it was essential that members of the Conference on Disarmament promoted and protected the international rules and institutions that supported stability and prosperity, and enabled cooperation to tackle global challenges.  

Sri Lanka stressed that the decision to establish five subsidiary bodies to work on specific areas of interest for all members of the Conference on Disarmament should not lose momentum.  Members of the Conference should ensure that no one was left behind in the context of the advancement of the United Nations development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

China expressed satisfaction with the situation on the Korean Peninsula, noting that things were moving in a positive direction for a political solution and it encouraged all parties to continue such moves.  As for the Iran nuclear deal, China reminded that all parties should implement it in good faith, thus contributing to the safeguarding of peace and stability in the Middle East. 


The next public plenary of the Conference on Disarmament will be held on Tuesday, 22 May, at 10 a.m.  The subsidiary bodies will meet in private during this week. 


Statements

SABRINA DALLAFIOR, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations Office at Geneva and President of the Conference on Disarmament, first welcomed four new Permanent Representatives to the Conference on Disarmament, namely those of Australia, Morocco, Republic of Korea, and Sri Lanka.  She said that the first part of the 2018 session had been marked by intensive consultations.  Those efforts had been fruitful and the Conference had adopted two decisions regarding the establishment of five subsidiary bodies to address matters of substance.  Those decisions were significant expressions of the Conference’s collective readiness to seek to overcome its longstanding deadlock.  Ensuring that the subsidiary bodies fulfil their mandate would require a sustained engagement by members of the Conference on Disarmament.  Subsidiary bodies would start meeting as early as this afternoon, and they would follow a fairly intense schedule until the end of June.  The coordinators of the five subsidiary bodies had worked intensively during the break to prepare for the upcoming meetings.  Several of them had already circulated documents clarifying their intention and providing guidance for the discussions to come.

Australia stated that the rules and institutions that helped maintain peace and security, and that guided global cooperation were under strain.  With divergent interests and shifts in power between States, it was more difficult to respond collectively to security challenges.  In that context, it was essential that members of the Conference on Disarmament promoted and protected the international rules and institutions that supported stability and prosperity, and enabled cooperation to tackle global challenges.  On the Korean Peninsula issue, Australia welcomed the news that the United States-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea summit would be held in Singapore on 12 June 2018.  It expressed hope that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would honour its commitment to complete denuclearization under the Panmunjom Declaration.  On Syria, Australia condemned the use of chemical weapons on 7 April 2018 in Douma.  The use of chemical weapons anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances, was abhorrent and deserved investigation and accountability.  For Australia, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons remained a crucial element in the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation architecture, as well as promoting the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  Referring to its space industry and upcoming establishment of its first space agency, Australia stated that it was committed to strengthening the international laws and norms that applied to State behaviour in space, including military uses of space.   

Republic of Korea said that the Conference on Disarmament was slowly waking up from a long hibernation, and expressed deep appreciation for the work of the previous presidents of the Conference.  Revitalizing the Conference on Disarmament was of utmost importance to sustain international peace and security.  The Conference must seize the momentum and it had the support of the Republic of Korea in that respect.  It was important to build common understanding and cultivate confidence among members of the Conference on Disarmament.  As for the events on the Korean Peninsula, there had been a sea-change.  The efforts of the President of the Republic of Korea to engage with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had finally borne fruit during the Pyongchang Winter Olympic Games.  The two Koreas had finally held a historic summit, and after open and candid discussions, the two leaders had declared that a new era of peace had begun.  It was a comprehensive and ground-breaking opening of cooperation and eliminating the danger of war, as well as cooperation for complete denuclearization.   The United States–Democratic People’s Republic of Korea summit would be a rare historic opportunity to establish peace on the Korean Peninsula and pursue denuclearization.  It was particularly important that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had undertaken voluntary and proactive measures towards denuclearization.  The Republic of Korea would continue to work with all members of the international community, and particularly with members of the Conference on Disarmament towards progress on the Korean Peninsula.  

Sri Lanka stressed that the Conference on Disarmament was the negotiating forum for multilateral instruments on arms control and disarmament.  The two decades of inaction and prevarication had only marked a generation gap.  Apart from everything else that the Conference on Disarmament should have endeavoured to achieve in that area of arms control and disarmament, there had been a resultant loss of a generation of experts and professionals, who could have understood and addressed disarmament-related issues.  Against that backdrop, the decision to establish five subsidiary bodies to work on specific areas of interest for all members of the Conference on Disarmament should not lose momentum.  Sri Lanka would remain engaged in that process actively.  Members of the Conference should ensure that no one was left behind in the context of the advancement of the United Nations Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

United Kingdom spoke about the actions that the United Kingdom, together with its American and French allies, took to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capabilities, and to deter their future use.  The Syrian regime had reportedly been attempting to conceal the evidence by searching evacuees from Douma to ensure samples were not being smuggled from the area.  Barrel bombs were usually delivered by helicopters.  Multiple open source reports and intelligence indicated that the regime’s helicopters had operated over Douma on the evening of 7 April 2018, shortly before reports had emerged on social media of a chemical attack.  The Syrian military officials had coordinated what appeared to be the use of chlorine weapons.  No other group could have carried out that attack.  On each occasion when there had been signs of chemical weapons being used, Russia had blocked any attempt to hold the perpetrators to account at the United Nations Security Council, with six such vetoes since the start of 2017.  Following the attack in Douma, Russia had blocked a United Nations resolution that would have established an independent investigation able to determine responsibility for the latest attack.  Regrettably, the United Kingdom had had no choice but to conclude that diplomatic action on its own was not going to work.  The Cabinet had agreed that it was not only morally right but also legally right to take military action to alleviate further humanitarian suffering.  It was not about intervening in a civil war, or about regime change.  The military action had been a limited and effective strike that would significantly degrade the Syrian chemical weapons capabilities and deter their future use, with clear boundaries that had expressly sought to avoid escalation and had done everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.  The coordinated actions of the United States, the United Kingdom and France had specifically targeted three sites.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea stated that the situation on the Korean Peninsula had attracted global attention as a matter of great interest from the beginning of 2018.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, firmly committed to put an end to the history of confrontation and to make a contribution to regional and global peace, had taken unprecedented measures to bring about a dramatic change in the situation on the Korean Peninsula.  That had resulted in creating a good atmosphere for improving inter-Korean relations during the twenty-third Winter Olympic Games in March 2018, followed by a historic North-South summit and the adoption of the Panmunjom Declaration in April 2018 for peace, prosperity and reunification of the Korean Peninsula.  Through the declaration, North and South had confirmed the common goal of turning the Korean Peninsula into a nuclear-free zone through complete denuclearization.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had declared in April 2018 that it would discontinue its nuclear tests and dismantle the test site in May 2018 to ensure transparency.  The discontinuation of nuclear tests and follow-up measures were an important process for global disarmament and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would join international desire and efforts for a total ban on nuclear tests.  The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea expressed hope that the international community would extend its active support in encouraging the current positive climate on the Korean Peninsula. 

France referred to the actions it had taken together with the United States and the United Kingdom on 13 and 14 April 2018, following the illegal use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime in Douma on 7 April 2018.  It recalled that the attack in Douma had killed dozens of men, women and children, in complete violation of the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.  According to the information gathered by the French intelligence, there was no doubt that the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack and that it had thus crossed the red line drawn by France in May 2017.  France was of the view that such transgression could not pass without a reaction.  The Syrian regime had broken all the agreements on the use of chemical weapons established since the beginning of the twentieth century.  The French President had thus ordered the French armed forces to intervene through an international operation conducted in a coalition with the United States and the United Kingdom.  France could not tolerate the banalization of the use of chemical weapons, which posed a direct danger to the Syrian people and collective international security.  Since May 2017, France’s priorities in Syria had been constant: end the fight against ISIS, and bring about a political solution to the conflict so that Syria and the region could finally find peace and stability. 

Syria, responding to the statements made by the United Kingdom and France and their accusations and attempts to justify attacks against Syria, said it hoped that members of the Conference on Disarmament would focus on positive developments in the Conference, such as the establishment of subsidiary bodies and the revival of the Conference.  The representatives of France and the United Kingdom still insisted on using the Conference to taint the Syrian Government and conduct propaganda based on unsubstantiated evidence.  The attacks of 13 and 14 April 2018 constituted a clear violation of the United Nations Charter.  Some still insisted on basing their actions on dubious intelligence, which was a blow to non-proliferation efforts.  The United Kingdom had based its decision on amateur footage and unsubstantiated evidence.  It was turning to unconvincing rhetoric using the blood of innocent Syrians to serve their imperialist agenda.  That happened each time that the Syrian army was progressing and defeating terrorists.  Could any person be convinced that in light of such events the Syrian Government would use chemical weapons?  Western countries had provided cover for terrorist groups and had turned a blind eye to the fact that those terrorist groups owned chemical weapons.  They seemed to want to block any political advancement in Syria and use it for their own agenda.  It was high time to stop such manoeuvers and the abuse of the noble purposes of the United Nations to preserve the colonial agenda of some countries.  They had refused that independent experts conduct inquiries on the ground because they would have uncovered uncomfortable truths.  Syria no longer had any chemical weapons, as attested by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. 

United States explained that the 13 and 14 April 2018 strikes on Syria had been focused on degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and preventing their future use.  The United States had sought action at the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and it had imposed sanctions.  However, Russia had stood in the way of all those efforts.  Russia had thus failed its international obligations and betrayed the Chemical Weapons Convention.  The Assad regime’s history of use of chemical weapons against its own people was not in dispute.  It was critical that Assad be held accountable for the crimes against his own people.  Turning to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the United States welcomed the commitment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to end nuclear tests, and it looked forward to the 12 June summit in Singapore, which was a historic opportunity to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Russian Federation repeated that it was against discussing “foreign issues” at the Conference of Disarmament, which were destructive and in no way allowed the achievement of common goals, namely reaching an agreement on a programme of work.  The United Kingdom and France should be fully informed that their experts had been promised assistance in completing the inspection trip to Douma.  Unfortunately, that invitation had not led to a reply from London or Paris.  The two capitals had declined the opportunity to check everything on the ground on the alleged crimes.  The missile strikes on Syria had taken place before the inspection by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons could take place.  It would have been more logical to wait for the Organization’s conclusions.  Finally, the missile strikes had posed danger to the civilian population.  It was clear that the missile strikes had nothing to do with chemical weapons, but had an entirely different aim.  The Russian Federation reminded that after the liberation of Douma, chemical stockpiles had been discovered, as well as the kind of material that had appeared near Salisbury and London.  The international community should stop the megaphone diplomacy and refrain from accusations against “regimes” and similar language, which had never been used in classical diplomacy.

United Kingdom read the statement made by the leaders of the United Kingdom, Germany and France, in which they regretted the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal.  The three leaders noted that the agreement with Iran remained important for shared security, and that it remained a binding international agreement, urging everyone to continue their participation in the deal.  Iran continued to abide by the agreement and the world was a safer place as a result.  The three Governments called on the United States to do everything possible to preserve the positive gains of the agreement, and encouraged Iran to show restraint to the decision by the United States.  Iran should continue to receive sanctions relief that it was entitled to.  Its nuclear programme should always remain civilian and peaceful.  

Bulgaria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, deeply regretted the announcement by President Trump of the withdrawal of the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.  The agreement, which had been unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council resolution 2231, was a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and it was crucial for the security in the region.  As long as Iran continued to implement its nuclear related commitments, as it had been doing so far and as confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 10 consecutive reports, the European Union would remain committed to the continued full and effective implementation of the nuclear deal.  The lifting of nuclear-related sanctions was an essential part of the agreement.  The European Union had repeatedly stressed that the sanctions lifting had a positive impact on trade and economic relations with Iran.  The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was the culmination of 12 years of diplomacy which had been working and delivering on its main goal.  The European Union was determined to work with the international community to preserve it.

Australia stated that it strongly supported the strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, which had been targeted and designed to deter the future use of chemical weapons.  The international community could not tolerate the use of chemical weapons. 

Right of Reply

Syria, speaking in a right of reply, reminded that the Syrian Government had previously provided clarification regarding the unprofessional manner in which the joint mechanism had investigated the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  In addition to the politicization of its work, the reports were not objective due to the pressure by the United States.  The scientific clarification provided by Syria was available in the records of the Conference on Disarmament and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and in Security Council documents.  Was expressing support for the attacks on Syria really contributing to non-proliferation?

France, speaking in a right of reply in response to Syria and the Russian Federation, noted that it was fully informed about the situation in Syria.  The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was supposed to establish whether an attack had indeed taken place, but not the responsibility for it.  The mandate of the joint mechanism had not been renewed because of the Russian opposition in the Security Council.  France did not promote terrorism; it was a victim of terrorism.

United States, speaking in a right of reply in response to the Russian Federation, noted that the use of chemical weapons was quite relevant to the Conference on Disarmament.  Any violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention was certainly relevant for the Conference.  Russia should stop making the point that the issue was not relevant to the Conference.   The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime was not in dispute.  As for the Iran nuclear deal, it had not regulated Iran’s behaviour.  Instead, Iran had become more aggressive under the cover of the deal.  The deal had given too much to Iran for too little.  The United States had been unable to reach an agreement that would address the flaws of the deal with Iran.  No one should continue in the deal if they did not feel confident about Iran honouring its commitments.

United Kingdom, speaking in a right of reply, stated that it did not want to reply to the Russian Federation whose efforts to muddle the water had become fantastical.  On Syria, it stressed that it would always stand up for global rules however inconvenient that was.

Russian Federation, speaking in a right of reply, stated that it was using facts and not something fantastical.  What facts had been established in Douma?  If someone was really interested in establishing facts, then the culprit for the attack in Douma should be determined.  Without being able to take samples and testimonies on the ground, all other arguments were unfounded.  The United Kingdom, France and the United States had been invited to send experts to Syria to ascertain whether chemical weapons had been used or not.   There was no single reference to what type of weapon had been used in Douma.  The Russian Federation opposed identifying culprits in advance.  That was fantastical; it countered the usual legal practice and elementary common sense.

Iran, speaking in a right of reply, stated that the negative comment made by the United States had prompted its right of reply.  Despite the full compliance by Iran, President Trump had ignored all of the commitments of the United States and the reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency.  By expressing false and unsubstantiated allegations, the United States was trying to force other partners to pull out from the agreement.  Nevertheless, Iran was committed to the agreement, and it would negotiate with the remaining partners.  Iran expected the remaining parties to extend their full support for the full implementation of the agreement.  To that end, Iran had held meetings with the European Union, China and the Russian Federation.  Turning to the issue of chemical weapons, Iran reminded that during the Iran-Iraq war, the United States had ignored the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein.  Iran as the victim of chemical weapons condemned any use of chemical weapons.  Iran’s missile programme had been designed entirely for defense purposes and it was not negotiable.  Speaking about the situation in Syria and Yemen, Iran had played a constructive role in the resolution of both conflicts. 

China, speaking in a right of reply, noted that the many quarrels and debates in the Conference on Disarmament were very bad.  China expressed satisfaction with the situation on the Korean Peninsula.  Things were moving in a positive direction for a political solution and it encouraged all parties to continue such moves.  China would continue to contribute to any moves favourable to political and diplomatic solutions on the peninsula.  As for the Iran nuclear deal, China reminded that all parties should implement it in good faith, thus contributing to the safeguarding of peace and stability in the Middle East.  China called on all parties to assume a responsible attitude and properly handle differences.  China would maintain dialogue and consultation with all relevant parties. 

Syria, speaking in a right of reply in response to the United Kingdom about media reports, wondered whether “credible media reports” could be the evidence of the use of chemical weapons and then used as a justification to deploy dozens of missiles.  Perhaps the used missiles were intelligent and the countries that carried out the aggression had transformed lies into weapons.  The White Helmets had organized Hollywood-like scenes.  That play did not diminish the fact that Syria had been succeeding in combatting terrorists.

United States, speaking in a right of reply in response to Iran, noted that the United States was a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, and that it had always condemned the use of chemical weapons.

Russian Federation, speaking in a right of reply, stated that it was disappointed by the decision of President Trump to unilaterally withdraw from obligations under the Iran nuclear deal and to restore sanctions against Iran.  That agreement was one of the most important multilateral agreements.  It did not only belong to the United States, but to the entire international community.  It was in the interest of strengthening regional peace.  The Russian Federation was seriously concerned that the United States was again operating against other countries and in line with its very narrow national interests.  Iran strictly complied with commitments under the agreement as regularly confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  The Russian Federation regretted that the United States had undermined trust under the agreement, which was a new demonstration that it was not possible to have agreements with Washington.  Any claim by the United States was just a smokescreen to settle political scores with Iran.  The remaining parties needed to quickly assess the new situation.  The Russian Federation was open to cooperate with the other parties to the agreement, and to foster bilateral cooperation with Iran. 

United States, speaking in a right of reply, noted that the country that had violated treaties was in no situation to say anything about other countries violating treaties. 

China, speaking in a right of reply, asked the representative of the United States whether the United Nations Security Council resolutions constituted international law or not.

United States, speaking in a right of reply, replied that indeed they were international law.


For use of the information media; not an official record

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