Key Watchdog Launches Inquiry into Syria Chlorine-Strike Allegations

A Syrian rebel fighter walks on a dust-covered street in Aleppo following a reported government airstrike on Sunday. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Tuesday said it would seek to "establish facts" about claims of chlorine-gas attacks in Syria.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
April 29, 2014, 10:56 a.m.

The world’s chem­ic­al-arms watch­dog said it will send in­vest­ig­at­ors to Syr­ia to “es­tab­lish facts” about re­por­ted chlor­ine-gas at­tacks in its civil war.

Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s forces would es­cort in­ter­na­tion­al in­spect­ors through re­gime-con­trolled areas of the dev­ast­ated coun­try un­der plans an­nounced on Tues­day by Ah­met Üzüm­cü, dir­ect­or gen­er­al of the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons. As­sad’s gov­ern­ment and op­pos­i­tion groups have ac­cused each oth­er of car­ry­ing out re­cent al­leged at­tacks in­volving chlor­ine, a com­mon in­dus­tri­al sub­stance that the Middle East­ern na­tion is not re­quired to re­lin­quish un­der a dis­arm­a­ment plan for­mu­lated last year.

Per­son­nel would “soon” travel to Syr­ia to be­gin the probe, the chem­ic­al-arms agency said in a state­ment. The plan re­portedly eli­cited state­ments of praise from U.N. Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon, and from par­ti­cipants in a Tues­day meet­ing of the watch­dog’s 41-na­tion gov­ern­ing board at The Hag­ue, Neth­er­lands.

Robert Miku­lak, the U.S. am­bas­sad­or to the chem­ic­al-con­trols or­gan­iz­a­tion, pressed the gov­ern­ment in Dam­as­cus to “im­me­di­ately and fully co­oper­ate” with the planned in­vest­ig­a­tion, and said the probe would ex­am­ine claims of chlor­ine-gas at­tacks in the vil­lage of Kfar Zeita earli­er this month.

The en­voy ad­ded that a U.N.-OP­CW dis­arm­a­ment over­sight team should look in­to wheth­er Dam­as­cus has re­por­ted its full in­vent­ory of chem­ic­al arms to in­ter­na­tion­al au­thor­it­ies.

“Up to this point, the elim­in­a­tion ef­fort has been fo­cused solely on the chem­ic­al weapons and as­so­ci­ated equip­ment and fa­cil­it­ies dis­closed by Syr­ia,” he said. “Ad­di­tion­al at­ten­tion will need to be fo­cused on veri­fy­ing the ac­cur­acy and com­plete­ness of Syr­ia’s sub­mis­sions.”

Miku­lak also de­man­ded “im­me­di­ate and tan­gible” ac­tions by As­sad’s gov­ern­ment to show it is com­mit­ted to elim­in­at­ing roughly 100 tons of re­main­ing chem­ic­al-war­fare ma­ter­i­als. The sub­stances rep­res­ent the fi­nal 8 per­cent of de­clared chem­ic­al-arms ma­ter­i­als still in re­gime cus­tody. As­sad agreed to dis­mantle the full stock­pile after hun­dreds of people died from nerve-agent pois­on­ing in Au­gust on the Syr­i­an cap­it­al’s out­skirts.

“Our un­der­stand­ing is that Syr­ia has yet to even un­der­take the pack­ing and oth­er ac­tions ne­ces­sary to pre­pare the chem­ic­als at the fi­nal site for trans­port,” Miku­lak said in pre­pared re­marks.

He urged Dam­as­cus to take ac­tions such as elim­in­at­ing its fi­nal stocks of weapon-us­able iso­p­ro­pyl al­co­hol, “pre­pos­i­tion­ing trans­port equip­ment; de­cant­ing chem­ic­als; [and] be­gin­ning pack­ing and site pre­par­a­tions.”

The dip­lo­mat said As­sad’s gov­ern­ment should also hold “a read­i­ness pos­ture at the port of Latakia,” where for­eign ships have been pick­ing up chem­ic­al-war­fare stocks for de­struc­tion at over­seas loc­a­tions.

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