Press-Conference “Activities Around OPCW Investigation and Identification Team Report”

Press-conference by Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN, on activities around OPCW Investigation and Identification Team report

Vassily Nebenzia: Before I proceed to the topic of the briefing, I would like first to congratulate you on the 75th anniversary of the Victory over Nazism in Europe. We have witnessed the horrors of World War II, which we know too well, unfortunately. The founding father of the United Nations had a clear vision for the Organization to ensure that humankind never sees these horrors again.

Now allow me to get back to the main topic of the briefing – the report of the OPCW Identification and Investigation Team. As you know, today the Director General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat is participating in a meeting with members of the Security Council. I know that you had the stake-out on that meeting and this meeting started as we speak.

Despite our open criticism of the illicit nature of the IIT, we were not opposed to the Director-General briefing the Council on the report. Our only request was that this interaction is conducted in an open setting. Regrettably, our Western partners and their allies insisted on holding this meeting behind closed doors and in an “informal-informal” setting of the IID, despite their slogans of the openness and transparency of the Security Council.

Such an approach is unacceptable to us as it undermines the prerogatives of the State Parties to the CWC and OPCW policy-making organs, which are effectively precluded from having any knowledge on the contents of this meeting and are yet to have a formal discussion of its main topic – the report of the OPCW IIT. With this in mind we will not be participating in the “informal-informal” IID and object the practice of interaction with the OPCW Director-General behind the back of the vast majority of the OPCW membership.

I would like to stress – we are not the ones to shy away from a difficult but frank discussion. Unfortunately, our interactions with the Director-General are more reminiscent of monologues. We’ve been patiently waiting for him to provide feedback on numerous questions, in some instances for more than a year: for example, the investigation of use of chemical weapons in Aleppo which the Technical Secretariat has been stalling for more than 12 months. There is also a pressing need to address the issue of the recently uncovered malpractices in the Technical Secretariat. And answer questions on the fake FFM report of the Douma’s chemical incident.

In connection with the IIT report I once again would like to reiterate our position on the issue at hand – Syria’s chemical weapons program has been shut down, all its chemical weapons stockpiles have been eliminated and production capacities – destroyed. Damascus has no chemical weapons capacity nor any intent or possibility to use it. This is further attested by the activities of the OPCW itself, which in the course of numerous intrusive inspections undertaken since October 2013 did not reveal any undeclared CW stockpiles.

Syria continues to provide full cooperation to the work of OPCW Missions, including inspection activities, which are conducted in accordance with the CWC. By the way, OPCW Secretariat did not notify Syrian authorities on the start of investigation conducted by the IIT, which is contrary to CWC.

From the very inception of the OPCW IIT in violation of Article XV of the CWC, we had no doubts that its main purpose would be to whitewash the illegal acts of aggression against Syria in April 2017 and 2018. This point is further strengthened by the very composition of the Team which simply does not have the qualification to handle serious technical issues pertaining to the CWC. It is quite telling that after three years the main perpetrators of the aggression against a UN Member States are still withholding from the OPCW all information on the so-called chemical weapons facilities that they were targeting.

There could be only two explanations for such inaction – either they are deliberately undermining the work of the OPCW, or, which is the more plausible one – they know that Syria has no chemical weapons and that their accusations are false.

I would also like to remind you that main narrative for the illegal act of aggression in 2017 against Syria was that the Shayrat airbase was used as a chemical weapon Production Facility. In order to address these accusations, Damascus did the only responsible thing a State Party to the CWC would do – on 11 April 2017 it requested the OPCW Director-General to send a team of experts to conduct a thorough inspection of the airbase without any timelines and with guarantees of full and unfettered access, including for the purposes of sample collection. It is regretful that the previous leadership of the OPCW Technical Secretariat disregarded its obligations under the CWC and ignored this request.

In a further effort to clarify the situation Russia and Iran on 19 April 2017 presented a draft decision to the OPCW Executive Council, which would formally mandate the Director-General to conduct the inspection of Shayrat airbase. This proposal was voted down by the US and their allies for no other apparent reason than to obstruct any coherent investigation of their own accusations.

All these events took place within a month from the incidents in Al-Lathamna and Khan-Sheikhoun, when an inspection of the Shayrat airbase could have provided a definitive answer to the accusations. Despite clear relevance of the above-mentioned facts, the Team not only did not take them into consideration while wrongfully placing the blame on the Syrian Government, but even failed to mention them in its report at all. Which, to our mind, clearly speaks of an attempted cover-up of the Technical Secretariats’ own inaction and an attempt to whitewash the illegal acts of aggression against Syria in 2017 and 2018.

It is quite clear that the IIT did not learn any lessons from the FFM and JIM and still implies their unacceptable faulty methods of work. Investigations are conducted in flagrant violation of the provisions of the CWC, without respecting the key principle of fulfilling procedures to ensure preservation of physical evidence (so-called “chain of custody”), which, inter alia, requires the evidence to be collected on site and exclusively by the OPCW specialists – there is no way to miraculously “reconstruct” the chain of custody for evidence that was unaccounted for almost a year. Besides, they collected information and evidence and samples from sources who are openly hostile to the Syrian government. What evidence do you expect to receive from such sources?

To sum up, given the clear bias of the IIT report, the illicit nature of the Team itself, recent malpractices that are yet to be addressed by the OPCW Technical Secretariat and continued intent by certain countries to conceal information on the so-called undeclared Syrian Chemical Weapons Production Facilities and Stockpiles we continue to proceed from our assessment that Damascus has no chemical weapons or any intent or possibility to use them.

Those were my introductory remarks and now I am ready to answer your questions.

Q: Thank you very much for the briefing. On what you just talked about, when you say it is just a cover-up, could you please be specific on who is covering-up? And on the coronavirus: are you worried about the spiking cases in the Russian Federation?

A: We are all worried about the spiking cases all over the world, including in Russia. Authorities are taking it extremely seriously, not everybody is happy with the measures introduced, but these measures are inevitable and necessary at this stage. We were blessed and spared of high mortality rates compared to others.

It’s nothing to boast about but this is just a fact. Now we are approaching, I think, the third place in the world in the total number of infected, but as I said in the beginning when we discussed it with Ali (who is himself a survivor and whom I wish all the best): the spike in the cases is also attested to the fact that authorities started to massively test people. And as I said, 50% of those tested are totally asymptomatic, they have no signs of any virus that is responsible for it. But of course, we are approaching, as they say, the plateau, but we are still not there and we are still coping with the situation. That is what regards the coronavirus.

What regards the cover-up, we have so many questions that we posed to the OPCW Technical Secretariat which still go unanswered. We are conducting our own expert investigation on the materials that we received. There are a lot of questions on the technical validity of conclusions reached by the IIT and by the FFM on the Douma report for that matter, on the integrity of the so-called “investigators” and many others. What concerns us is that there are no plans to organize a discussion in the OPCW Executive Council by professionals. Because the discussion in the Executive Council of the OPCW will be a political one.

Meanwhile, if you start challenging the conclusions professionally, they fall to pieces. And my question is, with whom to conduct dialogue professionally? Investigators in the so-called IIT are no chemical scientists. They are not capable of conducting professional dialogue and at the same time they don’t run the risk of undermining their professional reputation as they have none such in chemistry.

Remember the open letter by Courage Foundation written by authoritative experts on the conclusions of the Final Douma report? Where they devastated its ballistics, health and biological conclusions.

Remember OPCW inspectors that came to the opposite conclusions as to the nature of the accident in Douma? We informed about it in detail during our Arria-formula meeting on January 21. These inspectors were denigrated by the TS and their role that they were part of the investigation and even leading the process at some stages was denied. But that is not true. I would address you to the report recently published – as recent as May 6 – by the GreyZone, it’s here, in my hands, which claims rightfully that they have documents that speak to the contrary.

We have continuously, consistently asked for the discussion in the OPCW. But the Secretariat is deliberately evading this discussion, was evading it and continues to do so.

The conclusions that we made are clear. The illegitimate IIT was established with a single purpose. To stamp the alleged legitimacy on the fake reports of the FFM to give it a clout of “authority”. To justify the illegitimate aggression against Syria in April 2017 and 2018. It serves no other purpose.

Among the many questions that I asked my partners – scientific, technical, evidentiary – some of them they are not able to answer, as they are not specialists, but I’ve been constantly asking them one question: whenever they accused the Syrian Government of using CW – the motive. What is the motive for Damascus to use CW as it gives it no gains on the battlefield? In fact, every time these episodes halted offensive operations against terrorists. The answer of my colleagues, if they dared to utter it, at best was: “Al-Assad wants to horror and terrorize its enemies and civil population.” Come on, this is childishly underestimating your opponents.

The Syrian authorities would be the last to call unfriendly fire upon themselves as they were warned on numerous occasions that using CW is a “red line”. Moreover, there is no evidence that the servicemen of the Syrian Arab Army were preparing themselves to act in a chemical weapons environment – there are no videos or photos of them wearing protective clothing or gas masks in the vicinity of the incidents.

But their enemies and terrorists would be the first to gain from it if Damascus was accused of using CW. They were the interested party. Mind, chemical accidents took place every time the Syrian Army was gaining ground.

There is unequivocal evidence on the staged nature of those provocations – technical and evidentiary. Those who staged them were simply too unprofessional and couldn’t conceal their amateurish conduct of it. We provided tons of proof of that including through interviews with the witnesses. Was it taken into account? No! Yet the IIT claims that they could not verify the staged nature of accidents citing some mysterious experts.

Q: Thank you so much, Ambassador. I also have two questions. Russia has never before objected to having the chemical weapons briefing in private. Is it because the OPCW expert was briefing today that you wanted it in public? And I understand that some Ambassadors were concerned because some of the information is considered private, not supposed to be for a public briefing.

And secondly, on the COVID-19 resolution. In Russia’s view, is the draft resolution that was combined from Tunisia and France now dead? Is there a possibility of reviving it? And how do you view the fact that for the last 8 weeks and more the UN’s most powerful body has been totally impotent on the world’s most serious crisis?

A: Now on the first question. The claim that the Council will be discussing the protected information that we should secure and guard from the general public is merely a pretext. Protected information is something that should be discussed in the Hague. The JIT’s report has been already forwarded by the Secretary-General to the Security Council and in our time of widespread information I’m sure it has been leaked and that everybody who wanted to get acquainted with it has already done so.

Our aim was that the public, the general public should see in the open our questions that we wanted to address to OPCW Director-General F.Arias and see how he answers them. What our colleagues wanted is to conceal it from the general public and that’s where all those arguments about the protected nature come from. I have with me the letter that I just circulated to the President of the Security Council and the Secretary-General exactly on the matter with the list of questions that we wanted to address to Director-General Arias at the open meeting, but we were deprived of an opportunity to do so. So, don’t treat it as precautionary measure, as a wish and willingness not to expose any sensitive information. It is just a pretext to prevent an open discussion.

Now, secondly, on the COVID-19 resolution.

Just from the outset, we were prepared to go along with what we have been laboriously and painstakingly negotiating over quite a time already. But as you know, this didn’t happen at the very last moment, which we regret. Today, in the meeting of the Security Council, after we had a VTC on Iraq, we had a discussion on the resolution and how to proceed further with it. All Council Member are willing to come to a final agreement that would allow us to adopt it.

I wouldn’t be betraying who said what, but I want to assure you that the willingness to mend bridges is there, and we will attend to it in the nearest time. I understand that the public has been waiting for that for quite a time, but it has to respect the differences that we nearly managed to bridge, but have not arrived there yet.

Q: I have a couple of questions for you on Iran, given that it has been in the news lately. Would Russia veto an attempt to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran? And how could you stop the United States from triggering snapback at the UN Security Council?

A: You say the US is triggering snapback at the UN Security Council. To trigger a snapback, you have to be a participant of the JCPOA. In May 2018, exactly 2 years ago, the US proudly announced that it withdrew from JCPOA and closed the door behind. Now they knock on that door and say “just wait a second, we forgot to do one little thing on the JCPOA. Let us back, we will do it and leave again”. This is ridiculous. You know, in order to be able to use the instruments provided by JCPOA you first have to be a participant of the JCPOA. The US has not been an effective participant of the JCPOA for two years now.

You asked me about triggering snapback. My question to you is as follows. What will the US gain triggering the snapback? Because snapback would definitely be the end of the JCPOA. That would entail reaction. And the most intrusive inspections of the country by the IAEA would cease. My question is: is it in the US interests? Like you, I also saw these rumors in the press on possible US actions on that front. They have to really weigh whether it brings more benefits than negative effects. On the JCPOA itself, for me it is unequivocal. US is not a member and it has no right to trigger the mechanism.

Q: And what about the arms embargo?

A: Arms embargo is a by-product of JCPOA rather than its core. It was included in JCPOA provisions as a compromise to move forward with the core part of it.

Q: It seems like the US is planning to propose that Security Council adopt a resolution extending the arms embargo. Would Russia veto such a resolution?

A: You know me, I never answer questions before the right time comes. But you may make a wild guess. I leave it to your discretion.

Q: Yes, but for the audience a good quote could help.

A: I do not see any reasons why arms embargo should be imposed on Iran. It expires on 18 October. It was temporary. Let’s call a spade a spade: it was not in fact even an embargo. It is the provision where Iran is allowed to export/import armaments on the consent of the Security Council. Of course, you may call it a de-facto embargo, because we know what would happen if Iran asked for such waiver, but technically it was not an embargo. For us it’s clear, it expires on 18 October. We proceed from that fact.

Q: Regarding the arms embargo on Iran and on snapback as well. The Security Council is deeply divided as it used to be before the coronavirus (on Syria, on Iran, on other issues), and nothing has changed in this world. It is also divided on the coronavirus resolution. So, the pre-virus state of affairs has remained in place, hasn’t it?

A: I don’t think the Council is divided on coronavirus resolution. There are issues, or rather one issue that prevented reaching an agreement. On the resolution as such we have reached practically total agreement and it was to be reached last Friday. In the very last moment things didn’t work out.

Secretary-General says we have to rethink the way we conduct business, our attitude toward the problems the world is facing. This is the time of solidarity; this is the time of coming together. I am afraid that when we are in a post-coronavirus phase, the human psychology may not let us remember all things, all words we say during the pandemic about the need to overcome differences and come together.

Human psychology is such a thing which would leave the past behind, and we would run to live the way we used to before the coronavirus. Yet I hope that the lessons of this time will be learned. There are a lot of them, and it is yet too early to give their full-fledged analysis. How the world will come out of this is still a big question.

I have to admit that Security Council members are divided on certain issues, on certain conflicts, on ways of overcoming them. That has not evaporated once the coronavirus came.

Q: What about heads of states’ summit in P5 format? Is that a way out?

A: Do you mean the live summit proposed by President Putin?

Q: Yes, this one.

A: That was the idea – to bring together those countries that basically were the founding fathers of the United Nations, those that bear special responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, and to discuss in an open and friendly environment the problems that the world is facing and to seek solutions to them. All leaders confirmed participation, they welcomed the initiative. We have not yet adopted the agenda, not because we have any disagreements, but because the coronavirus struck and affected the preparations for the summit. Today we do not know either when or where it will take place. There are many “unknowns” about it. Still we do the planning and hope that when the limitations and bans are lifted, we will have a chance to have that summit in-person. The sooner the better.

Q: On Iran. What is the exit from this situation that is created by the demands of both sides, to put it this way?

A: If you ask me, the best exit is to return to the full and genuine implementation of the JCPOA by all participants. That will be the best way out. But I realize that at present this is somewhat of a wishful thinking. But at least, not to undermine the JCPOA itself, because it will not be in the interests of those who have issues with the plan. It may not benefit them the way they consider it might.

Q: Thank you for doing this briefing. Please do it more often. None of us are going anywhere, so you can do this any time you want. I have a quick follow-up on Iran and then one question on the OPCW. Iran first. Clearly, the US seem to have a very different legal interpretation from the one that you have. They believe they could trigger a snapback. Just explain to me who is supposed to be the arbiter if they pursue this. Is it up to the Secretary-General to say whether they have the legal right or not?

A: Do you mean the arbiter for the legal interpretation or the arbitration that is provided within the resolution?

Q: I mean the legal interpretation.

A: I think it is primarily up to the members of the Security Council and to the remaining participants of the JCPOA itself.

Here is what Minister Zarif wrote in a letter addressed to the Secretary-General. These are the words that I can only subscribe to: “Not only is the United States in grave violation of UNSCR 2231 (2015), but it is blatantly attempting illegal paths to reverse the resolution in absolute contempt for well-established principles of international law. In fact, one of the fundamental principles governing the international relations thus established is that a State which does not fulfill its own obligations cannot be recognized as retaining the rights which it claims to derive from the relationship. In this case, solely by withdrawing from the JCPOA, the US has lost any right therein”.

This was not just a letter by Iranian Foreign Minister. To me it looks like a truthful legal interpretation.

Q: On the OPCW that is being discussed today by other members of the Council as we speak. Russia has always been supportive of the OPCW. We remember Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov in that whole procedure around Syria.

The IIT is OPCW’s official team. You say that there are so many problems with it, that it is biased, that it is operating in an incorrect way. Does that change Russia’s view of the OPCW overall as an organization?

A: As an organization OPCW proved to be a chemical watchdog that achieved a lot of success over years, received the 2013 Nobel Prize for example, which was, by the way, related to the Syrian chemical problem. That was a great joint success, when Russia and the US jointly initiated Syria’s chemical disarmament and when Syria joined the OPCW. So, it is not about the OPCW as an organization, as an inter-governmental platform.

However, for some time by now we have had serious questions to the way the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW operates and to the way some countries are using, or rather abusing the TS to achieve their political aims.

IIT was established to replace the infamous JIM that died in late 2017 after it completely compromised itself by a false report on the Khan-Sheikhoun incident. We pointed at numerous loopholes, inconsistencies, lies in the body of the technical report that they produced. We provided our own assessment, but nobody would listen to it.

Unfortunately, the situation repeats itself. Having nothing, like in case with JIM, to connect it to the Security Council, our Western partners invented this IIT. Indeed, the Team was established counter to the provisions of the CWC. Less than a half of OPCW members favored the establishment of the IIT, which was in fact imposed on the Member-States. And now it is used as a tool to accuse the Syrian Government of using chemical weapons in one or another episode and then with the help of its so-called authority to continue persecuting Syria for what it has not done, had no motive to do and for what it cannot justify itself despite the bulk of material evidence that is contrary to the conclusions made. So how else would we treat this IIT that has been established with a sole purpose of compromising the Syrian government?

Q: I have two questions. One is about the OPCW. Is the OPCW planning to discuss all issues that you have just mentioned, all the concerns raised by the Russian Federation in the technical discussion? And the second one is about the UNSC resolution on COVID-19 which has been discussed for so long as you have already mentioned. Could you please clarify the Russia’s position on what you expect to see there? Do you expect to see in the final draft the role of WHO, the matter of sanctions which could be raised for those countries who find it difficult to fight COVID-19 under sanctions and so on?

A: We would love to see technical professional discussions within the OPCW on the conclusions of the mentioned report as well as on the conclusions of the FFM Final report on Douma which is an outrageous thing. We will pursue to expose them and to make the Secretariat answer our clear and unequivocal questions on this episode. But the problem is that we do not see any willingness on the part of the Technical Secretariat to organize such a discussion.

The discussion on the report of the Executive Council of the OPCW will take place sometime in the future, we do not know when, lifting measures permitting. As often and recently in the OPCW, it will be political. We know what our partners will be saying. They will be saying that they do not need any proof other than that of the most respected, professional and authoritative body – the IIT of the OPCW.

Nobody is interested in a professional technical discussion because such a discussion will reveal horrific, horrendous misinterpretations and wrong data that were laid to the foundation of the conclusions that I indicated. I could go into detail on this, speaking for a long time about technical things: the samples, the crater, the ammunition, the cylinders, the way they reached the final destination, the people who were allegedly affected by chlorine or sarin which was not the case. For that, we will have to have another session with you. I would be prepared to do so. By this time I am cognizant with this kind of things very well. But this is something for technical specialists to discuss.

Our concern is that the OPCE Technical Secretariat has no inclination or will to organize, convene such a dialogue. All we will have will be a session by the Executive Council where political statements will be made and then the case will be closed. For us it will not be closed. We are conducting our own expert investigation and we will share its results with you and the international community but unfortunately a professional discussion at the OPCW is not what is happening. But it is what we would like to see.

Now on the COVID-19 resolution. That resolution as it is now is a product of a compromise. We are not 100% happy about its contents. And I am not sure that any member of the SC is, all of them have reservations about certain provisions of the resolution. You mentioned sanctions that affect the ability of many countries to fight the pandemic and that it correlates with the appeal of the SG, we strongly support that appeal. And we support lifting sanction from those countries. I am not talking about Russia, by the way. I just want to underline it. We are talking about much more vulnerable countries that are really affected by sanctions in the current situation. We have other things in the resolution that did not find its way there. We have no problem on the role of the WHO. We think that any effort that we should address to fighting this pandemic cannot ignore the role of the WHO as the main international body on health issues.

The text of the resolution is 99% ready. It is 1% not ready, but this 1% constitutes the major roadblock at the moment which we are planning to overcome in the near future. I hope we will succeed.

Q: The US said that Russia is working with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to send Syrian fighters and equipment to Libya. What is your comment on that?

A: I have no comment because there is nothing to comment on. We are not recruiting anyone in Syria, neither are we recruiting agency to recruit Syrians to fight in other countries. We know that these processes are going on and it concerns Syrian rebels, in particular from Idlib, who are now finding themselves in other countries, but this has nothing to do with Russia.

Q: Two quick things here. How do you think diplomacy will be changed by this virus? Everyone else in the diplomatic circle has said that Russia never wanted to do any meetings privately, maybe you still going to hold to that, but must be in-person on certain topics, what is the latest on that?

Number two – you mentioned the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. With that in mind, what is Russia’s current feelings about the UNGA 75 which will be an important milestone for the foundation of the UN. But as we know, there is still the virus today. Today Mr. Putin’s Spokesperson was hospitalized with the virus. What do you think is the latest on the Russia’s thinking on whether there should be a regular type of UNGA if COVID-19 is “still in the air”?

A: First, of course, we find ourselves in unusual circumstances and environment when we have to work through VTCs, phones, letters. I must tell you: I do not know how you feel about that but I find it much more energy-intensive than it is in a normal life; it drains you more than in other situations. But we somehow adapted to it. We found a way to operate in this environment, I mean the Security Council.

Richard, I didn’t understand your point, when you said that Russia was opposing private meetings of the UN Security Council. I don’t think that this is the right interpretation. We have been negotiating for a while how we will operate in a new environment and indeed, we have worked it out through the Chinese Presidency and later – through the Dominican, now we are doing it during the Estonian Presidency. It works fine. The only difference is that these meetings don’t have official status and that is not because we don’t value them as such. The thing is that we don’t want to undermine the Charter and the Rules of Procedure. There are certain legal issues that surround this thing if we did it otherwise, but we managed to find the “modus operandi” which works pretty well and I don’t think that anyone is complaining that we cannot do it in person.

Now on the UNGA session and on how it will take place. Nobody can predict the end of pandemic of COVID-19. I myself would like 75th session to be held in a normal way. I do hope that by that time we will be out of it. But at this moment nobody can say for sure.

My question is, if New York starts to reopen in some time in the near future (there are some rumors circulating around that the Mayor and the Governor are thinking of how to manage it), what the UN will do? How will it operate? UN is master of its own ceremonies, it is a state within a state in a way, because it has extraterritorial status, it has its own rules on its territory. Of course, it follows the instructions and recommendations by New York and US Authorities, reasonable and medical recommendations, by the way, like we do at our Mission. But when these restrictions in NYC are lifted partially or completely, what will the UN do and how does it go about its meetings?

I spoke to the Secretary-General on that matter last week and I said that in any case, however the situation develops (I hope for the better scenario), the UN should prepare a kind of contingency reopening plans, so that one day we find ourselves back on the 42 street. How the 75th Anniversary of the UN will be celebrated? That is an important date and we will be preparing for it to celebrate it in the coming fall. I have no clue yet. We have already lost a few dates to celebrate. I hope and pray that by the end of this fall, preferably earlier, we’ll be able to return to normal life.

Q: On Friday morning you told the other members of the Council, that you still have some issues with COVID draft. What are they?

A: We had some minor issues that we never were able to negotiate because we were stuck on other issues. We have always stressed that those are issues we want to attend to. Then the resolution was put on the silence procedure. I simply did not have any instructions and the time was too short. I frankly warned our coordinators France and Tunisia that I may need more time to receive instructions from Moscow. Frankly I went out of my way to receive it overnight, which I did. Our issues, however big or small they were – they were dropped. We were ready to go. But then other things happened that led to where we are now.

Q: A follow-up question on Iran. I understand that Russia and others are saying “Yes, the US has left the deal”. But procedurally, how can you stop the US from submitting their complaint to the UNSC? The resolution, the deal doesn’t spell out how this works, so procedurally, how can you stop them from triggering snapback?

A: I know that you want to take all of my secrets out of me. Too early.

Q: I have a quick follow up on question on Libya. As you know several days ago media reported on some closed report made by panel of experts, regarding some Russia-affiliated military companies allegedly acting in Libya. I wonder if you could share any idea of their level of expertise and awareness of that situation?

A: I have no definitive answer on the level of their expertise. I only know that they are using (especially at present) only open sources. They are not conducting any personal investigation. We have had issues with reports leaked to the press for a long time. We constantly raised that issue. Some reports are so easily and eagerly leaked to the press before they were printed. I have no comment on it. That was commented by Russian authorities many times. We are not responsible for private companies anywhere; they are private and that’s it. They are not sponsored by the state. But this report has been circulating for a while already.

We know that Libya is an arena for much international presence in both East and West. We know that the situation there is not improving contrary to expectations that we had after the Berlin Conference. Largely that is explained by the fact to which we pointed when we were discussing Resolution 2510. We were saying to them that this resolution will not work unless we have the agreement of Libyan protagonists.

When we adopted the resolution, I openly said that I would be happy to admit first that I had been wrong should it be working without what was not in the resolution. Unfortunately, I was not wrong. The resolution lacked what it should have had. That is why we abstained, by the way.

Now we see what we see in Libya, not much is improving. We will be discussing Libya on May 19 and we will hear what the UN has to tell us. Besides, you know that the Libyan settlement is suffering from the absence of the new SRSG – Ghassan Salamé has retired. But we hope that Secretary-General will appoint new SRSG early.

Q: We are starting to hear about a lot of delays within NYC. Things are moved back by the UN itself. The Secretary-General just announced July 1 in terms of remote telecommunicating. In your view could there be some UNGA 75 that would be virtual or at least mainly virtual so that it would not be cancelled?

A: Well I do not want to make speculations about that. I hate to think about virtual 75th UNGA. How it will work out? We will see. There has to be improvement in the summer. Let’s see what happens on July 1. Talking about the Security Council, I believe at certain point we may find a format in which we can operate in-person without jeopardizing our neighbors and colleagues. I think it can work and it seems we should be thinking about it.

But regarding GA, which is a great event attended by thousands of people, it is hard to say how this current pandemic will affect this mass gathering. Yet I am trying to send away thinking of an idea that we are having a virtual GA in the fall.

Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations