Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 18

The UN-OPCW Joint Mission declared this week that Syria had completed its destruction of its 120 metric tons of Isopropanol in-country.  Additionally, Reuters suggested Tuesday, 20 May that the remaining 7.2% of the Syrian chemicals are in the process of being moved from their site outside Damascus towards the port of Latakia to be sent out of the country.  This was contradicted by Reuters on Thursday, 22 May when it reported on the 41st OPCW Executive Council meeting; the article quotes the British deputy representative as telling the Council that “there is still no sign of any movement of chemicals, nor any indication of a time scale for a move.”

Many of the statements at Thursday’s meeting followed along the line of the British one, reprimanding the Syrian government for its lack of progress and urging it to act more quickly.  Permanent Representative Teresa Angelatou of Greece spoke on behalf of the EU noting that “Syria has now started preparations of the removal of the last remaining chemicals” but that “all the agreed, or self-imposed timelines for the removal [most recently 27 April] of both Priority I and Priority II chemicals from Syria have long been missed….The European Union reiterates its serious concern regarding the negative impact of ongoing delays on the destruction process.”  Additionally Representative Angelatou also urged the Syrians to destroy the twelve chemical weapons production facilities, a process which the Syrian Arab Republic is in contention with Western powers. 

U.S. Permanent Representative Robert Mikulak delivered another strongly worded statement at the OPCW Executive Council meeting on Thursday as well, reiterating many of the points from the EU’s statement.  He claimed that “in recent months, Syria has been dragging its feet on the implementation of its own obligations to eliminate its chemical weapons program.  In fact, every target date set by the Council since January – and even dates set by Syria itself – has been missed.  Syria appears to show progress only when this Council voices criticism and the international community focuses pressure on Syria to fulfill its obligation…If [these deadlines] are not met, the responsibility will lie entirely with Syria.”  He further chastises the Assad government by reiterating that “it is Syria’s responsibility to fulfill its obligations and remove the remaining chemicals from its territory, rather than complain about how difficult the task is to complete.”

OPCW Director General Ahmed Uzumcu briefed the Executive Council on the progress (or lack thereof) of the OPCW mission to Syria to analyze the alleged use of chlorine against civilians.  Ambassador Uzumcu said that “the alleged use of chlorine in Syria is a grave concern to the OPCW and the international community” but that the mission has been unable to look at the alleged sites as of yet due to security concerns.  As reported last week, there is growing evidence that chlorine has been used, mostly likely by the government, in multiple sites across Syria.  A video of the aftermath of such an attack was recently released by the Syrian rebels showing low-hanging greenish smoke and individuals receiving oxygen at a hospital.

Green Cross International, the Pugwash Council on Science and World Affairs, and the CWC Coalition hosted a roundtable on the Syrian chemical weapons demilitarization process on 19 May in Geneva, Switzerland.  Expert speakers included Amb. Serguei Batsanov, Dr. Alexander Likhotal, Dr. Ralph Trapp, Dr. Paul Walker, and Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders.  A 90-minute video of the event can be found here.

Additionally, the British publication Chemistry World released an in-depth article on the chemical weapons destruction process.  The article, which included quotes from Green Cross International’s own Dr. Paul Walker, included previously unmentioned details of the destruction process.  The article includes the amounts of chemicals being sent to the multiple destruction sites, a previously unmentioned detail: 130 metric tons of VX and VM will be destroyed in Finland and 150 metric tons will be destroyed at Ellesmere Port in the UK; 560 tons of sulfur mustard and sarin precursor DF will be destroyed aboard the MV Cape Ray; and the hydrolyzed DF will be destroyed in Finland while the mustard effluent will be destroyed in Germany.  The raw materials from the destruction of the 120 tons of isopropanol destroyed in Syria will be incinerated by Veolia in both Finland and Port Arthur, Texas.


Hazmat Exercise in Romania.jpg