Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 36

In response to the second Fact Finding Mission report released by the OPCW earlier this month the Syrian government has
warned that terrorists may be using chemical weapons in order to frame the Syrian government. This comes after US Secretary Of State John Kerry’s statement last week assigning Syrian government responsibility to the chlorine attacks. While the OPCW report did not openly blame the Syrian Government, Kerry cited witness statements describing helicopters being used in the attacks. Kerry emphasized that the Syrian government is the only actor in Syria with the financial and technical capability of possessing helicopters. He concluded that “the Assad regime must know that it will be held to account for such use in the international community.”

Following Kerry’s press release the Syrian Foreign Ministry reported that “Syria has fulfilled its obligations by adhering to the Chemical Weapons Convention,” and “cooperated fully with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and no longer possesses these weapons.”

This week also saw the beginning of US led airstrikes on Syrian soil. While this is to combat ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and not a result of the recent OPCW report, the Syrian Foreign Ministry has voiced concerns that this large US-led coalition may lead to a shifting of targets in order to assists moderate Syrian rebels in overthrowing the regime. No precedent exists for these claims, however, it is clear that Assad is deeply unhappy with the “unlawful” airstrikes on his soil. Given the current allegations facing his regime, this is a disagreement that could escalate.

The OPCW also updated its figures for Syrian chemical weapons destruction as of September 22, 2014. Destruction now stands at 97.6%, a total destroyed of 1,276.2 metric tons. All that remains from the original declared stockpile is 31.2 MTs of Category 2 chemicals.

Also of interest is the news report that Libya is seeking more western support for destroying its remaining 850 metric tons of CWC Schedule 2 chemicals. Libya completed destruction of its bulk and weaponized mustard agent this past year, about 26 metric tons, but has precursor chemicals including isopropanol, pinacolyl alcohol, phosphorus trichloride, and phosphorus oxychloride. It has suggested, due primarily to security and technical concerns, that this could be shipped out of country, similar to the Syrian case, and destroyed either on board a ship (such as the Cape Ray) or on land, as is taking place in Finland, Germany, the UK, and the US for Syria’s precursor chemicals. The OPCW has stated that they are looking into Libya’s request.