Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 15

The self-imposed deadline for Syria to remove or destroy its total stockpile of chemical weapons passed on Sunday, 27 April 2014.   The previous deadline, agreed to last fall, was 5 February 2014.  While the country managed to remove or destroy 92.5% of its weapons before the latest April deadline, there is still a worrying 7.5% (allegedly almost 100 MT including precursor chemicals for sarin) left at a single site in or near Damascus.

As the Syrian Arab Republic government has failed to meet several international deadlines for removal of the chemicals, a few Western sources are alluding to this being Assad’s attempt at leverage to keep his former chemical production facilities intact.  Twelve such former production facilities, many heavily armored, have been discussed for several months now regarding whether they should be fully destroyed or whether some could be “converted.”  The OPCW has been adamant that they all need to be completely destroyed.  Articles in both the Washington Post and the website McClatchyDC are using quotes from anonymous U.S. officials to claim Assad is pushing to “see how far he can go without drawing real [Western] attention.”  While the articles insinuate backhandedness on the part of Assad, there is no hard evidence that the delay in removing the last 7.5% of chemicals is not due to security concerns, as the Syrian government claims.

The British newspaper The Telegraph claims to have proof that the Assad regime is still using chemical weapons against civilians.  The paper used soil samples from three alleged attack sites and had them independently analyzed by a chemical warfare expert.  According to the experts, including Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the results “unequivocally proved that the [Assad] regime has used chlorine and ammonia against its own civilians in the last two to three weeks.”  This follows worries of many Western governments, including the U.S., about the recent reports of chlorine attacks on civilians in the outskirts of Damascus.

While it had previously said it would not look into the alleged chlorine attacks in Syria, the OPCW announced on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 that it would undertake a fact-finding mission in Syria on the alleged chlorine attacks.  This occurred during the meeting this week of the OPCW Executive Council and with the support of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  The OPCW inspectors have reportedly departed today, 2 May 2014, for Syria to investigate the alleged use of chlorine as a chemical weapon.   And the OPCW Executive Council has scheduled another meeting on Syria for next Tuesday, 6 May 2014.