UAE calls for scrapping Syria’s chemical weapons at UN debut

ISIS could use deadly toxins as weapons against civilians, UAE diplomat tells the Security Council

A civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask after a toxic gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria. Reuters

Emirati diplomat Mohamed Abushahab on Wednesday called for the wholesale scrapping of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles in the UAE's first public appearance as a new member of the UN Security Council.

Mr Abushahab, the UAE's deputy ambassador to the UN, said that chemical weapons in Syria should be destroyed before they fall into the hands of armed extremists like ISIS or criminal gangs.

His address to the chamber in New York marked the UAE’s debut at the UN's top table after it commenced its two-year term on the Security Council at the start of the New Year.

“Chemical weapons must be eliminated and no one shall have access to or use them, whether inside or outside Syria,” Mr Abushahab told the 15-nation body.

“The fact that these weapons might fall in the wrong hands, including terrorist organisations such as [ISIS] and other criminal organisations, is extremely worrying, and, too, could have grave repercussions on the stability and security of Syria and the world at large.”

Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013, pressured by Russia, following a deadly chemical weapons strike that the US and others blamed on the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

By August 2014, the Assad government declared the destruction of its chemical weapons had been completed, but weapons inspectors have since blamed Mr Al Assad’s government for further chemical attacks, including three in 2017.

The UN’s disarmament chief Izumi Nakamitsu told council members there remained unresolved “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” in Syria’s chemical weapons declaration from eight years ago.

The US, Britain, France and others have accused Damascus of dragging its feet over inspections, and urged it to abide by UN rules and scrap its stockpiles.

Russia, Syria’s main ally on the council, said Damascus was fulfilling its obligations.

Mr Abushahab said the divisive issue “requires non-politicisation”.

“The UAE calls on the relevant parties to work together on the basis of the principles that established the organisation and its technical nature, including a consensus-based approach, and refraining from politicisation,” he said.

“This is in order to facilitate the visit of the [chemical weapons] assessment team to Syria.”

The UAE, Albania, Brazil, Gabon and Ghana on Saturday began two-year terms on the UN Security Council, the world’s top body for addressing threats to international peace and security. Each was elected unopposed by UN members in June.

The UAE has served on the council once previously, from 1986-1987.

“It is an honour to speak today on behalf of the United Arab Emirates for the first time as a member of the Security Council,” Mr Abushahab said.

“The UAE will spare no effort during its membership to carry out its responsibility to maintain international peace and security.”

Updated: January 6th 2022, 4:24 AM