ESS Blog

2014 May 09th

Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 16

After what appeared to be a pretty slow week on the Syrian chemical weapons destruction front, head of the Joint Mission of the OPCW and UN Sigrid Kaag gave a closed door briefing on the progress of the mission to the UN Security Council on Thursday 8 May 2014.  Briefing reporters after the fact, Kaag reiterated that approximately 92% of the declared chemicals are out of Syria or have been destroyed in country but the remaining 8% is currently inaccessible due to security conditions around the site near Damascus.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the remaining 16 containers are trapped in a government air base behind rebel-held roads, which prevents inspectors from reaching the facility.  Kaag said the remaining weapons, made up of precursors to sarin, could be removed within “less than a working week” once “unfettered” access was granted and that this could still be done before the internationally imposed 30 June deadline for the chemicals to be removed from Syria and destroyed .

It has become increasingly clear over the past few weeks that Western diplomats continued to worry about the Syrian CW destruction program.  A source told Reuters that diplomats from the West, including the U.S., Britain, and France, expressed their concerns that the Syrian chemical declaration submitted to the OPCW last year might have been untruthful and understated the amount of CW which the Assad regime actually possesses.  This was most likely bolstered by the alleged attacks by the regime last month using chlorine gas, a dual-use chemical which the government did not claim in its OPCW declaration. 

Additionally, the diplomats have expressed “unease” that Syria has yet to and is unwilling to destroy 12 former chemical production facilities.  U.S. Permanent Representative to the OPCW, Ambassador Robert Mikulak, spoke at the Executive Council meeting at the OPCW 8 March 2014 berating Syria for its complications of the process and its uncooperative nature: “The responsibility to complete the removal and to start destroying those facilities resides solely with Syria…There are steps that Syria could be taking right now to prepare for the final chemical removal operation…it has not yet taken them.”  He called for “immediate and unfettered access” for OPCW inspectors and immediate steps to complete the transportation of the chemicals.  Mikulak also said the U.S. is ready to engage in technical discussions about the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons production facilities and chastised the Syrian Arab Republic for taking the destruction as a “take-it-or-leave it” document rather than a binding international agreement preventing Western action against Syrian President Assad and his government.

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