Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 38

CNN revealed on Tuesday, October 7th, that Syria has a further four chemical weapons facilities that it did not disclose to the UN. Sigrid Kaag, head of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission which formally disbanded last month, reported to the UN Security Council that these entail three research and development facilities and one production facility. This information was disclosed to the OPCW during the meetings that have been occurring in the past several months regarding Syria’s initial declaration of its chemical weapons program and facilities. The production facility and one R&D lab are reportedly focused on ricin as a weapon; the other two R&D labs are focused more broadly on CW development.

This fuels the continuing concerns that the Syrian Government has not been fully honest in its dealings with both the UN and OPCW. Moreover it stresses the need to remain diligent and involved in the ongoing events in Syria, not only in terms of ISIS, but also in relation to the Syrian Government and its interactions with its citizens. This sentiment was stressed by US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, in her tweet, “Must keep pressure on regime so it doesn’t hide CW [chemical weapons] capability.”

The US Ambassador to the OPCW, Dr. Robert Mikulak, stated in his presentation to the 77th Meeting of the OPCW Executive Council on October 7th, 2014 in The Hague, the following:
“We look forward to Syria fulfilling its obligation to complete the destruction of the remaining twelve chemical weapons production facilities it originally declared; these facilities should have been destroyed long ago. The meager one-page report from Syria on progress towards their destruction is disappointing, and yet characteristic of Syria’s attitude towards its legal obligations under the Convention and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118. Furthermore, the excessive cost estimates for the destruction of these facilities, and Syria’s assertion that it will not pay for associated verification costs, only confirms that Syria is not just like any other State Party to the Convention; others pay such costs as a matter of course. To treat Syria as a normal State Party would amount to professional negligence on the part of the Council.”

Despite this new revelation and official US government statements, US Department of Defense press release, Thursday October 9th, included a statement from Andrew C. Weber, Assistant Secretary of Defense, stated that the strategic threat of Syrian chemical agents has been eliminated. Weber stated, that “the best evidence of that is a decision earlier this year by the government of Israel to stop the distribution of gas masks to its public”. The release goes on to mention that despite the failure of the Syrian government to declare all its stockpiles and facilities there is now a “system in place, led by the Nobel-Prize-winning [OPCW], to work with the Syrian regime and the international community under the [UNSC] resolution to resolve any lingering discrepancies”. Thus while there may be continuing doubts over the government’s honesty and cooperation, there exists a trusted and efficient mechanism for handling the potential ensuing issues.

Also on Thursday the Department of Defense honored the 45 Army civilians who volunteered in the US Mediterranean effort to destroy Syrian chemical weapons abord the Cape Ray this past summer. Twelve Meritorious Civilian Service Awards and 33 Superior Civilian Service Awards were given to the “highly trained field operators, technicians and chemists who dedicated themselves to eliminating the world of weapons of mass destruction”. Tim Blades, head of the Cape Ray hydrolysis operations, also gave an off-the-record presentation on Friday, October 10th, at the National Defense University in Washington DC about the eight-month effort to neutralize about 600 metric tons of Syria’s declared CW stockpile. The Cape Ray completed neutralizing about 20 MTs of sulphur mustard agent and 580 MTs of a sarin precursor, DF, on August 19th, in the Mediterranean and is currently back at its homeport of Portsmouth, Virginia.