Chutzpah: Syria to chair UN disarmament forum on nuclear and chemical weapons

Well, there’s chutzpah and there’s chutzpah, but this is CHUTZPAH. In 2013, Syria signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (administered from The Hague) which, according to Wikipedia, “outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors.” Yet Syria has violated this treated several times (including two days ago), with the latest chemical attack killing 40 people. It’s not yet clear what agent was used, though sarin has been used in the past. Those who suffered horribly in all these attacks include mostly civilians, including children; and the death is, as I’ve seen on videos, a gruesome one. What al-Assad and his regime have done, with the backing of Putin, is a war crime. (Of course the UN, too busy condemning Israel, haven’t said a word about Syria.)

Now, according to UN Watch, Syria is scheduled to chair a UN disarmament conference whose provisions include the ban on chemical weapons:

 Despite accusations that it perpetrated yet another deadly chemical weapons attack on Saturday, Syria will next month chair the United Nations disarmament forum that produced the treaty banning chemical weapons, sparking calls by an independent monitoring group for the U.S., the EU, and UN chief Antonio Guterres to strongly protest, and for their ambassadors to walk out of the conference during the four weeks of the Syrian presidency.

The 65-nation Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, has also negotiated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, considered the cornerstone of nuclear disarmament efforts, as well as the convention against biological weapons.

“Having the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad preside over global chemical and nuclear weapons disarmament will be like putting a serial rapist in charge of a women’s shelter,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of United Nations Watch, the Geneva based non-governmental organization. The activist group announced that it intends to hold protest events outside the UN hall featuring Syrian victims of their government’s chemical weapons attacks.

. . . “The Assad regime’s documented use of chemical weapons remains the most serious violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention in the treaty’s twenty-year history,” said Neuer. “We urge the UN to understand that at a time when Syria is gassing its own men, women, and children to death, to see Syria heading the world body that is supposed to protect these victims will simply shock the conscience of humanity,” said Neuer.

Under UN rules, the Syrian ambassador to the forum, Hussam Edin Aala, will help organize the work of the conference and assist in setting the agenda. Mr. Aala will exercise all functions of a presiding officer and represent the body in its relations with states, the General Assembly and other organs of the United Nations, and with other international organizations. While the post is largely formal, “Syria holding the president’s gavel is liable to seriously undermine the UN’s credibility, and will send absolutely the worst message,” said Neuer.

This is hypocrisy of the highest order. If the UN would do something about Syria, which it apparently won’t, it would stop this farce and issue a condemnation of al-Assad’s actions. That that hasn’t happened is a severe indictment of the United Nations, which has become an increasingly useless organization.

Here’s the proof of Syria’s participation:


  1. glen1davidson
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    Syria’s solution to the problem of chemical weapon stockpiles–use them.

    Glen Davidson

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it’s like having Syria as the warden in a women’s prison with a hand full of pardons.
    Apparently Israel has bombed Syria for this but we sill wait for our great leader, who so far has used nothing but his mouth.

    • Posted April 9, 2018 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

      “…our great leader, who so far has used nothing but his mouth.”

      To give credit where credit is due, I note several centimeters progress from his pre-election trope: “What’s wrong with…?” (insert thuggish regime).

  3. Posted April 9, 2018 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Yes, this reminds me that Saddam was due to chair the UN Disarmament Conference in May 2003. One wonders how it feels to sit in on these UN commissions with people that one knows are liars and genocidalists: myself, I would feel dirty.

  4. GBJames
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink


  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    And then, as the crazy whitebread lady from Minnesota says, there’s “choot-spa.”

    This one takes the choot-spa cake.

  6. busterggi
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Problem is that a club that allows anyone to join without regard to qualifications…

  7. W.Benson
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Please tune in to Russian accusations against US and Brits right now at the UN, being broadcast on CNN.

    • Posted April 9, 2018 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      This is what I found at CNN’s Web site:

      “Throwing insults and bizarre accusations has become a normal way for Russia to respond when its own appalling behavior comes to light… The answer, as always, is to take Russian bluster for what it is: a desperate attempt to shift the blame once the realization has set in, as it did in the case of MH17, that Russia has made a serious mistake and earned not just the disapproval but the disgust of the civilized world. Russia will continue to throw up wild accusations, nonsensical conspiracy theories, insults, threats and attempts at tasteless humor.”

      I’d add that this has always been a normal way for Russia.
      (The opinion is about Russia’s latest poisoning operation, but is valid for her policy in general.)

      • Christian
        Posted April 9, 2018 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        I’d add that this has always been a normal way for Russia.

        And they never really cared to at least uphold a façade of plausible deniability. It’s always been deny, deny, deny – even the friggin’ obvious.

  8. Christopher
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Better to blame Obama for Syria’s use of chemical weapons and ignore that the Republicans (and Tories in the UK) refused the allow punitive strikes when they crossed that red line.

    • Posted April 9, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      I disagree. To me, if Obama hadn’t at his disposal the means to secure intervention in case Assad would cross the red line, he (Obama) should have never talked about red lines. Actually, as soon as the people of Syria stood up, he should have made it clear that the USA had no serious intentions. Maybe then the civil war wouldn’t happen. I think that Obama’s administration actions and inactions increased greatly the carnage in Syria and around, not to mention the damage on the American reputation, which reached a nadir.

    • Posted April 10, 2018 at 3:43 am | Permalink

      Do you think we should shape the world to be like the ‘west’? If so, regime change & intervention is to be expected, & why not start with the biggest/worst? If not, then stand by & watch or turn away.

      I have no idea…

    • Richard
      Posted April 10, 2018 at 4:26 am | Permalink

      “(and Tories in the UK)”

      Really? There was a vote in the House of Commons on August 28th 2013 on the issue of airstrikes against Syria which David Cameron lost by 272 votes to 285, after some Conservative MPs joined forces with Labour: a tally of votes compiled by the Labour whips found that 30 Tory MPs had rebelled. So the vast majority of the ‘No’ votes were actually cast by Labour MPs. David Milliband. Labour leader, then asked Cameron to assure the House that he would not use the royal prerogative to sanction British involvement (and so ignoring the outcome of the vote.

      Still, let’s not let a little thing like historical accuracy get in the way of dissing the Tories, shall we?

  9. Posted April 9, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe you are buying this latest chemical weapons story whole-cloth.

    Just like last year, right after Trump talks about leaving Syria, there’s a chemical weapons attack blamed on Assad. As then, the videos come from the White Hats, who are closely linked with Islamic “rebel” forces.

    Assad has won, the U.S. is about to leave and he decides to bust out the chemical weapons? How can anyone just buy that story without demanding real evidence?

    Who benefits? The Islamic “rebels” and military contractors.

    Of course, Trump just reverses course and goes along with great enthusiasm and the MSM stupidly laps it up.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 9, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      On the one hand, you are correct that this particular attack hasn’t been independently verified. However, there was an attack, and it was by Assad. Independent journalists witnessed the bombing from the safe part of the city. The rebels do not have planes. It is possible that this was just an “ordinary” bombing and not a chemical attack. Either way, Assad is bombing his own people.

      There is independent, verified, evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons several times in the past. There is no reason to believe he wouldn’t do so again. This last rebel enclave has been holding out for some time, and he is desperate to be able to declare victory. This is the sort of desperate measure he’s taken in the past in such situations.

      It’s true that not all the bad actions are on Assad’s side. He still has many supporters, including the members of every religion except Sunni Muslims. However, it was his bad management that got him into this situation and it doesn’t excuse what he’s done to his people.

      • Posted April 9, 2018 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

        Thank you very much. Assad’s fans keep amazing me.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted April 9, 2018 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

          Well, you know, some people like murdering dictators. I am sure that somehow the whole thing is our fault. Assad is just a chip off the old block.

  10. Posted April 9, 2018 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    The only solution possible is to divest from Israel. That’s the solution to everything in the Middle East. Isn’t it?

    The UN is hamstrung by the security council veto power exercised by the the big powers as well as the relative tyranny that all the small countries who get a vote. Sounds like the US Senate and the two senators per state mess the US is in. The UN is still useful for some things like some of the centralized data gathering and aid they are able to sometimes arrange to poorer countries. And some talking is better than none so I hope it continues but you must temper your expectations.

  11. Heather Hastie
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    The UN needs to change its rules here. It obviously looks really bad to have Syria as president of this group, but under current rules, there’s nothing the UN can do about it. All committees like this are set up so all members get to be president for four weeks on a rotating basis. There are 65 members of this committee, and Syria’s turn has come up. For example. NZ was head of the UN Security Committee for four weeks last year. Unfortunately, World Peace didn’t break out as a result. Most people didn’t even notice.

    I don’t know much about what rights they get along with the presidency, except I know they get a chance to propose and discuss stuff that might not ordinarily make it to the table. You don’t get any extra votes though, and everything is decided by vote. So the rest of the committee can vote down or suggest modifications (which also get voted on) to anything the head of the committee proposes.

    The main problem here, as so often with the UN, is optics. I think there should be a rule that when a country is breaching conventions it signed on to, they shouldn’t be able to head committees. However, that will never happen because the P5 (US, Russia, China, GB, France) controls everything, and they all breach stuff all the time – some more than others of course.

    • W.Benson
      Posted April 9, 2018 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      I’m with Heather.

    • Posted April 10, 2018 at 12:34 am | Permalink

      There are so many rogue countries in the UN, including two of the Big Five, that I have given up hopes that this organization will ever be useful politically. I think it is better to restrict its functions to immunizations and other health care, environment preservation, heritage preservation and other non-controversial items. Of course, Israelis would suffer from the loss of their country’s superstar status :-).

      • Richard
        Posted April 10, 2018 at 4:31 am | Permalink

        “so many rogue countries in the UN”

        As someone once said, if you mix a quart of vanilla ice-cream with a quart of dog faeces the result is a lot more like dog faeces than vanilla ice-cream.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted April 10, 2018 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

        France and GB have both indicated they are prepared to give up their veto power in certain circumstances such as an humanitarian emergency. If the other three could be persuaded to do the same, that would help.

        I think it would be bad to go backwards. The world needs international bodies in all the areas the UN covers. The Security Council is far from perfect, but at least it’s a forum where all countries get together. If we didn’t have that, the world would be a much more dangerous place. Diplomacy is always the most desirable answer and the UN provides a place for that to happen when all other avenues are closed. Without it we could easily revert to warring factions. The UN is not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.

  12. BJ
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Well, I guess this is no more surprising than Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN being appointed Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

    OK, it’s a bit more surprising.

  13. somer
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    This is dreadful especially as Syrian chair ship is taking place when a major conference is on. Part of the role of the UN is to stop blunt power contact between great powers and obstruct war

    Power politics will happen even tho significantly moderated in the UN – if Syria is just there 4 weeks then thats something.

    I dont know that much about the UN but I understand the US contributes much less to the UN than it used to and that has affected its influence in the organisation. The US needs to put more into the UN again so that it has more say in cases like this and more importantly to support funding of expert non political staff like special rapporteurs in rights and monitoring bodies, and senior health officials (as opposed to the head of WHO which is political appointment)

  14. W.Benson
    Posted April 9, 2018 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    This comment is VERY long, and I apologize in advance.

    There is actually no proof that Syria is behind the last two major toxic gas incidents. For Douma, the evidence is not in. The gas “attack” happened just at dark on Saturday, about 60 hours ago. A possible eye-witness claimed the gas smelled like chlorine. Videos shown on TV are unverified, and video reports shown by CNN, Fox, and Al Jazeera mix in scenes of daylight shelling (the “gas” shown is dust) and old scenes of a gruesome sarin attack. The hospital scene may be real, or it may be theatre. The White Helmets have been caught faking scenes before. Some mention a helicopter, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

    The Russian ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia claims in a UN speech today that the rebels were removed from the area yesterday(?) and put on buses to north Syria. He says that Russians and Syrians now occupy the area of the alleged gas attack, but they have found no evidence for it. According to Nebenzia, doctors at the one hospital operating in Douma were unaware of a chemical attack and that no bodies of potential gas victims were found. He said the area is secure and offered to open it to UN observers.

    Chlorine gas is relatively easy to get (it is used to treat drinking water). All sides in the Syria conflict have been reported to use it as a weapon at one time or another. If chlorine was the gas, it has to be established who used it, or if it was released from damaged cylinders. Rebels in several parts of Syria have improvised cannons that fire gas cannisters (I have seen photos on Google of rebel cannons rigged to shoot propane tanks into Aleppo).

    Last year’s sarin attack at Khan Shaykhun was both real and deadly. I have seen reports on the incident from all sides and, despite the UN’s blaming Syria, think it was a rebel provocation. Briefly, a device exploded in the pre-dawn of 4 April 2017 in the middle of one lane of an important road passing through a residential area of town. Only one (possibly 50 kg) sarin device was set off, but its wind-born gas killed about 80 people, all civilians if I remember rightly. These bombs are small enough for a Russian fighter-bomber to carry several. The curious facts of the case are as follows: Only one bomb was dropped [sic]. The device was set off when few people were awake and could contradict the official story. The aircraft was only reported by rebel sources. The one device used “fell” far from any rebel installation. If it was an attack by Syria, it was doomed to fail producing military results. The probability of a fixed wing aircraft dropping such a bomb smack in the middle one of the few paved roads in the town was extremely low, whereas the place of the explosion corresponds perfectly for an IED pushed off the back of a pickup truck. The small crater (abt. 1 m wide and 20 cm deep), shown in photos posted by rebels, only contained what was identified as the contorted remains of the sarin gas canister and, miraculously, the detached cap of the filler hole of a Russian KhAB-250 chemical bomb. This latter was the only item that identified the device.

    The chemical weapons supposedly used by the Syrians, although employed against rebels in their strongholds, never seem to kill rebels, but always civilians and mostly women and children. Moreover, these chemical attacks occur at times when they are maximally embarrassing and prejudicial to Damascus’s goals. The 2013 sarin incident near Damascus coincided with the visit of a UN chemical warfare inspection team! While not rejecting the possibility of chemical use by rogue Syrian military units, I believe (in the absence of convincing contrary evidence) that most or all of the cases are black-flag operations in which terrorists, perhaps with the help of Saudi Arabia and US, especially the CIA and people like Erik Prince, or Saudi Arabia murder the children of others as a low-risk strategy to advance their own religious and political ambitions.

    • Posted April 10, 2018 at 12:48 am | Permalink

      Syrian government, quoted by BBC:
      “The army, which is advancing rapidly and with determination, does not need to use any kind of chemical agents.”

      They do not even actually deny having used chemical agents. Why care? They have used them before, and the world has done next to nothing. I suppose that Assad will continue to use chemical weapons every time when he sees a nascent opposition, and seeing his impunity, other dictators (esp. those supported by Russia) are likely to follow suit.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 10, 2018 at 3:36 am | Permalink

        I take their statement as a denial.

        And all you have to do is ask, ‘who benefits?’
        The rebels, don’t forget, may have elements of ISIS – does anyone think ISIS would hesitate to kill a few innocent bystanders to secure a military and propaganda advantage? Does anyone think ISIS aren’t smart enough to think of that?

        I would have thought the ‘west’, after the shameful and murderous fiasco of Saddam’s non-existent ‘weapons of mass delusion’, would have been a bit more wary of going off half-cocked over stories like this. But then we have Trump and Theresa May who are reliably predictable (just like Dubya and Bliar) to have a knee-jerk reaction…

        I’m not saying Assad wouldn’t do it if he gained an advantage that outweighed the pushbacks – but I just can’t see what possible advantage that would be.


        • Posted April 10, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

          I do not see the West “going off half-cocked” – on the contrary, I see it desperate to find the least possible amount of action to mitigate its embarassment, like Trump’s cosmetic air strikes a year ago.
          As for Assad’s advantage and pushbacks, see Heather above, and also this:

        • Posted April 10, 2018 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          Infinite, you wrote almost exactly the same post this time last year after Khan Sheikhoun. And yes, Assad did that. And it is highly likely that he did this.

          Assad did this irrespective of whether Trump is an idiot and whether Saddam had WMD: and Iraq did have WMD. We have the reports of the troops and the evidence.

          Assad benefits because he is a genocidal maniac.

          • Posted April 10, 2018 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

            Agree Assad did this. Wondering what WMD reports for Sadam you are referring to though.

              • Posted April 10, 2018 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

                Thank you for the link. Not sure what you were going for with your comment though. It was well known that Saddam had chemical weapons and in fact used them during his war with Iran in the 80’s so no surprise there. The most cogent lines in the NYT report are probably these:

                “All had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area, according to those who collected the majority of them.

                In case after case, participants said, analysis of these warheads and shells reaffirmed intelligence failures. First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.”

                This is hardly comparable to what Assad has or is doing. The WMDs in Iraq look like somebody’s bad idea of garbage disposal. Scott Pruitt would probably approve of the procedure though. (Sorry, can’t resist.)

              • Posted April 11, 2018 at 6:39 am | Permalink

                I would argue, gpf, that the editorializing paragraph you cite is the least cogent and most wrong of the whole piece.

                We know that Saddam defied all 16 of the UN resolutions in the 12 years up to 2003. We know that Saddam’s régime ran a programme of concealment right up to the start of GW2. SH maintained the ballistic missile delivery systems and staff. We know that project was within weeks of producing C and BWMD. We also know that SH declared munitions which were never accounted for. Some may have been smuggled abroad just before GW2. It is likely that by September 2003 nearly all parts which could be used for missiles as well as chemical, biological and nuclear arms had been systematically looted from up to 10 sites. Yes, the equipment may have been dual-use, but as we know after GW1, inspectors found that SH was close to making an atom bomb. We have reports of the chemical weapon phosgene from August 2004 and mustard agent from 2007, and of sarin used against coalition troops in an IED from May 2004, such as had been declared destroyed by SH’s regime after 1991: that was not true.

                The age of the matériel found in post-2003 Iraq is irrelevant. SH had been required to destroy all of it and he did not. That is another reason why he was a danger to the region and his own people. Even Hans Blix, whom SH duped in the 1980s weapons inspection, wondered why one would trust SH. The argument changed post-2003 to the idea that these were the wrong type of WMD over which the war was fought: that was not the problem before GW2. The whole point was that SH had not accounted for all his weaponry.

                Infinite introduced the idea of comparing SH to Assad. S/he compared the intelligence on Assad with that on Saddam before 2003. My problem with that narrative is that it is largely misplaced. The casus belli was not specifically SH’s links with AQ nor WMD. It was based on SH’s failure to comply with 16 UN resolutions in 12 years, encapsulating the 4 headings of genocide, proliferation of illegal weapons, sponsorship of terrorism and war. Repeatedly.

                To claim that you were lied to by Bush and Blair in the run-up to the war seems to me one of the most deeply trivial, incorrect and narcissistic arguments one could make. And it is about time that the left got serious about looking at the evidence. We all know Godwin’s law: not everything is about Hitler. We have a C21st version: not everything is about the justification for GW2. At least we were right about Hitler: when it comes to GW2, I am often amazed at how the run-up to the war is rewritten in the public discourse.

  15. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    That’s not chutzpah, it’s a scheduled alphabetical rotation of the chairmanship, as illustrated by the planning chart in the post. The US will get its turn in a couple of months. Let me see, how many nuclear and chemical weapons does the US have?


  16. Posted April 10, 2018 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    To be fair, they can share their intimate knowledge…

  17. Posted April 10, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    I personally (tentatively) am in favour of it – if one starts playing “but this is hypocritical” then the big players (like the US, Russia, etc.) will simply not play at all, and that will make things worse.

    With more sane than usual US administration, this would be a great opportunity to disown hypocrisy, actually. But nothing like that will happen.

  18. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted April 10, 2018 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    This is hypocrisy of the highest order.

    “Mr President, there is someone beating you in a race you probably don’t understand the meaning of.”
    [Donald, for it is he] “We’ll see about that …”
    Sorry, is my cynicism showing?

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