Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 35

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry released a statement on Sunday, September 14, urging the UN Security Council to take action on the systematic use of chlorine gas in northern Syria. It stated that “the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian regime once again reveals the threat it poses to regional and international peace and stability.”

Another international call came from Moscow on Tuesday, September 16, for the OPCW to conduct an investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Iraq. A spokesman from the Foreign Ministry declared that “the episodes of possible use of chemical agents in rebel-controlled territories in Syria and Iraq are links of one chain”. The Ministry expressed its concern at reports of the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon by rebels in Iraq south of Tikrit. It is noteworthy that no specific perpetrator was identified simply by the use of the word “rebels”. This was reiterated by Russia calling on countries “not to be driven by minute-serving political considerations to jump at hasty conclusions about who is to blame for these crimes”. Of related interest are the reports in June that the ISIS/ISIL insurgents in Iraq had gained control of the two sealed Iraqi bunkers at Al Muthanna with remnants of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program; these large bunkers were sealed by UN inspectors in the mid-1990s, but no one seems to know if the insurgents have sought to access them yet or not.

The growing doubts of Syrian honesty in declaring all chemical weapons facilities have been realized—the regime has declared three further in their initial OPCW declaration last fall have now apparently been realized—the regime has recently declared three additional chemical weapons facilities, one of which is a laboratory capable of producing the poison ricin. This also includes a total of three undeclared locations. Recent OPCW and UN Security Council meetings had highlighted discrepancies—which have this week come to light. This news comes at an alarming time as extremist militants in both Syria and Iraq gain ground: obtaining undeclared chemical weapons or production facilities would be disastrous. Sigrid Kaag who has been leading the UN-OPCW will be returning to the region later this month for further discussions with the Syrian government. Reported earlier were two canisters of sarin nerve agent, previously undeclared, which the Syrian government denied having any knowledge of and alleged were found in “rebel territory”.

The MV Cape Ray, the American Merchant Marine ship that successfully neutralized the most dangerous declared Syrian chemicals (20 MTs of mustard agent) and precursors (580 MTs of DF [methylphosphonile diflouride]), has returned to its homeport of Portsmouth, Virginia. The ship was deployed from Portsmouth on January 27, spent almost five months in Rota, Spain waiting to receive Syria’s chemicals, sailed on June 25 to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro to receive the chemicals, and completed the on-board neutralization of some 600 MTs in mid-August; it returned about eight months later on Wednesday, September 17.