Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 14

The OPCW announced that a 17th shipment has left the Syrian port of Latakia, bringing the total amount of chemicals removed from Syria to 86.5% of Syria’s declared tonnage.  This is a significant increase from earlier this month when less than half of the chemicals had been transferred and makes it appear more likely that the 27 April deadline for all of the chemicals to be out of Syria will be met.  According to the OPCW, the shipment on 22 April raised the total of Priority 1 chemicals out of the country to 88.7%.  Combined with the chemicals destroyed in country (some 150 MTs of isopropyl), the amount of the Syrian chemicals that have been dealt with by the Joint Mission has reached 92.5% of the reported total of some 1,300 MTs.

According to Reuters, the Syrian Arab Republic is looking forward to the end of the international mission overseeing the removal and destruction of its chemical weapons.  Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said that the final report submitted by Special Representative Sigrid Kaag to the UN Security Council “will be the end of everything” and that Syria will then be a “full-fledged member of the CWC.”  This has been disputed by the U.S. and European delegations however.  British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant believes that the Joint Mission will remain in Syria for the foreseeable future, particularly as further verification will be necessary.  The agreement reached last September allows for CWC States Parties to use due process and raise questions about possible undeclared facilities and weapons, so one may see such questions raised over the coming month before the OPCW Executive Council, thereby catalyzing follow-up OPCW inspection missions to Syria.

The end of the Joint Mission is also questionable due to the continued allegations of chlorine attacks by the Syrian government.  As reported over the past few weeks, Western countries including the U.S., UK and France have been investigating rebel allegations of chemical attacks.  As the chlorine canisters appear to have been dropped from planes in improvised bomb-type barrels, it seems likely that these were perpetrated by the Assad military.  While the OPCW previously claimed it would not be looking into these allegations, it now appears that the Director General might investigate the chlorine attacks on his own initiative, without seeking a formal request from a member state.  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is one official who has strongly pushed for an official investigation, but the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad said such allegations are intended to “overshadow the achievements made by Syria” thus far in eliminating all of its declared chemicals.