Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 33

On Monday, September 1st, Ekokem (the Finnish company tasked with incinerating Syrian chemical agents) announced the last shipments of chemicals had arrived to its Riihimäki plant from the port of Hamina. It is thus ready to begin incinerating the final batch of toxic waste, some 5,000 metric tons of neutralized DF, sarin agent precursor chemical. This shipment was delivered by the American ship Cape Ray over the weekend, after its trip from the Mediterranean Sea where it completed the neutralization of about 600 metric tons of Syrian chemical agents (sulphur mustard) and nerve agent and precursors (DF) a couple of weeks ago. The Cape Ray next sailed to the port of Bremerhaven in Germany where it delivered some 400 metric tons of neutralized mustard agent for incineration at the GEKA facility in Munster, Germany the first week of September.

A statement by Nidal Shikhani, chairmen of the Chemical Weapons Documentation Office (a Paris based group opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) also on Monday revealed the organization has “received credible information from activists and legal scholars who work inside Syria…who said that the chemical weapons factories which the OPCW closed are still working.” These suspicions are coming at a time when the destruction of some 1,300 metric tons of chemical agents and precursors that the Assad government did hand over are being successfully neutralized and destroyed—in fact about 96% (1,255 MTs) destroyed in first stage to date. Shikhani alleges that Syria has continued to use the dual-use chemical chlorine, which is not banned by the OPCW, in the form of barrel bombs. This organization maintains that the Syrian government still possesses 32% of its original chemical weapons stockpile.

On Thursday, September 4th, Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag for the Joint Mission of the OPCW and the UN told the UN Security Council that 95.8% of Syria’s declare chemical stockpile has been destroyed. This breaks down to 100% of the most dangerous Category 1 (1,047 MT) and 79.1% of Category 2 (207.8 MTs of the 262.8 MTs). In addition she mentioned that the preparation for destroying the 12 declared chemical weapons production facilities is under way; OPCW officials arrived in Damascus this week to begin final demolition plans. She “reiterate[d] strong hope that if [this disarmament process] is achieved, that conditions for peace and security and political process will be the center stage for the benefit of the people of Syria and the region, particularly in these days of profound crisis.” As of October the OPCW will lead the project of destroying the 12 declared former chemical weapons production facilities in partnership with the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and Syrian contractors. The Syrian Trust Fund at the OPCW, supported by over two-dozen countries, will cover the costs of this demolition operation, which will continue well into 2015. Kaag concluded that “all in all, the Joint Mission has achieved its objectives, has assisted the authorities in Damascus to achieve their goals as a State party, but the residual activities that remain of course are also of importance and interest to the [Security] Council so they have been asked to be briefed on a regular basis as before for a foreseeable period.”

Shortly after Kaag’s briefing, Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN expressed concern that the Islamic State group could obtain chemical weapons if Syria is hiding any undeclared stockpiles. Given recent reports that allege continued use of chemical weapons on Syrian citizens this is a worryingly problematic prospect. No immediate reaction was received from Syria on these comments.