Syria Surrenders Last Chemical Arms, But Key Questions Persist

Syrians celebrate President Bashar Assad's re-election in Damascus earlier this month. Assad's government on Monday finished handing over its declared arsenal of chemical-warfare agents, an international watchdog said.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
June 23, 2014, 7:12 a.m.

A top in­vest­ig­at­or said Syr­ia has sur­rendered the fi­nal chem­ic­al arms it ad­mit­ted to hold­ing, but any secret ar­sen­al may al­low gas at­tacks to con­tin­ue.

“The last of the re­main­ing chem­ic­als iden­ti­fied for re­mov­al from Syr­ia were loaded this af­ter­noon aboard the Dan­ish ship Ark Fu­tura,” said Ah­met Üzüm­cü, dir­ect­or-gen­er­al of the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons. The fi­nal tanks of po­ten­tially leth­al war­fare sub­stances re­portedly had been locked in place by fight­ing around Dam­as­cus.

Monday’s de­vel­op­ment bookends a months-long in­ter­na­tion­al cam­paign to re­move roughly 1,300 met­ric tons of chem­ic­al-war­fare ma­ter­i­als from the vi­ol­ence-racked Middle East­ern na­tion. Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment agreed to re­lin­quish the stock­pile last year, after nerve gas killed hun­dreds of people in a Dam­as­cus sub­urb and promp­ted threats of for­eign in­ter­ven­tion in Syr­ia’s civil war.

“Nev­er be­fore has an en­tire ar­sen­al of a cat­egory of weapons of mass de­struc­tion been re­moved from a coun­try ex­per­i­en­cing a state of in­tern­al armed con­flict,” Üzüm­cü said in a state­ment to re­port­ers. “And this has been ac­com­plished with­in very de­mand­ing and tight time­frames.”

The dis­arm­a­ment ef­fort en­countered months of delays, though, and an in­ter­na­tion­al man­date to des­troy the stock­pile this month is now out of reach. Üzüm­cü last week said ex­tend­ing the dead­line is out of the ques­tion, and the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil would con­sider how to re­spond, the Daily Sa­bah re­por­ted on Monday.

The chem­ic­al-arms watch­dog chief ad­ded that his agency still has work to do in Syr­ia. It re­mains un­clear wheth­er As­sad’s re­gime may be hid­ing more war­fare chem­ic­als, and Üzüm­cü urged the gov­ern­ment to con­tin­ue sup­port­ing an in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to pos­sible strikes with un­declared tox­ic gas.

“We hope to con­clude soon the cla­ri­fic­a­tion of cer­tain as­pects of the Syr­i­an de­clar­a­tion and com­mence the de­struc­tion of cer­tain struc­tures that were used as chem­ic­al-weapons pro­duc­tion fa­cil­it­ies,” he ad­ded in his Monday an­nounce­ment. Dam­as­cus denies it ever used chem­ic­al agents in com­bat, and blames op­pos­i­tion forces for any at­tacks with sub­stances con­trolled un­der an in­ter­na­tion­al treaty it signed last year.

Mean­while, a ship­ment of Syr­i­an chem­ic­al-war­fare stocks ar­rived in Fin­land on Sat­urday, Yle Uutis­et re­por­ted. The stock­pile’s dead­li­est por­tion is slated for de­liv­ery to the south­ern Itali­an port of Gioia Tauro, where it would be moved onto a spe­cially equipped U.S. ves­sel for de­struc­tion.

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