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This week marked the 100-year anniversary of the start of World War I—the first war to ever use chemical weapons in a major way; some 90,000 soldiers were killed with chemical agents in WWI, and another million injured. Unfortunately since then most major powers produced thousands of tons of even more deadly chemical agents to fill millions of chemical weapons. Fortunately, with the exception of the 1980’s Iran-Iraq war, and the Saddam Hussein 1988 attack on Halabja, there has been no major attack with chemical weapons to match the horrors of WWI. The Germans first employed chlorine gas on French, British and other troops at the Second Battle of Ypres on April 22, 1915—the same chemical that has been used recently in the Syrian conflict. While the use of these indiscriminate and inhumane weapons of mass destruction has continued into this century, much progress has been accomplished, especially this year in Syria, towards building a world free of chemical weapons.
The U.S. reported this week that the Cape Ray has destroyed 60% (about 360 MTs) of the chemical agents it has on board. Secretary Kaag announced the figure during a videoconference briefing to the UN Security Council after she had received the report from the U.S. At this same briefing Kaag reported that a meeting had been held in Beirut discussing the specifics of destroying the 12 declared chemical production facilities in Syria. It was concluded at this meeting that the entire destruction process would take approximately six months to complete.
In addition, Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador and current president of the UNSC, announced that Britain would “in the course of this week” destroy its share of the Syrian chemical precursors and hydrochloric acid. The OPCW announced on August 7th that the UK had completed incinerating about 190 MTs of sarin precursor chemicals at its Ellesmere facility operated by Veolia Environmental Services; interestingly, there was no mention of precursor chemicals, which were scheduled to be destroyed at another British facility, Mexichem. Combined with other destruction operations ongoing in Finland and the US, the OPCW announced that 74.2% of Syria’s declared chemical stockpile had been destroyed to date.
UK Ambassador Lyall Grant also mentioned that the US informed him that once it had destroyed all the agents aboard the Cape Ray, it would send the toxic, liquid residues to Germany (some 350 MTs from the neutralization of sulphur mustard) and Finland (some 6,000 MTs from the neutralization of DF) for final disposal. At this meeting it was announced that another group of OPCW chemical weapons experts will travel to Damascus in September to further discuss Syria’s declaration. Finally Council members discussed suspicions that chlorine gas had been used recently in Syria. Lyall Grant commented that, “there are a lot of technical questions that need to be addressed on the declaration.”