Syria Hands Over More Chemicals as Disarmament Push Gains Steam

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government hold a rally in Damascus on Sunday. The regime on Thursday surrendered its third batch of chemical weapons in less than a week, according to an international watchdog agency.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
March 20, 2014, 10:33 a.m.

Syr­i­an au­thor­it­ies on Thursday gave up a third batch of war­fare chem­ic­als in un­der a week, ap­par­ently ac­cel­er­at­ing moves to­ward re­lin­quish­ing their stock­pile.

The latest de­liv­ery boos­ted the quant­ity of sub­stances sur­rendered by Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s re­gime to al­most half of its de­clared chem­ic­al ar­sen­al, ac­cord­ing to the Or­gan­iz­a­tion of the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons. Dan­ish and Nor­we­gi­an trans­port ships are re­mov­ing the ma­ter­i­als from the war-stricken coun­try in a dis­arm­a­ment ef­fort launched after a large-scale sar­in gas at­tack just out­side of Dam­as­cus in Au­gust.

“When all of the Syr­i­an chem­ic­als from all stor­age sites have been loaded aboard the Dan­ish and Nor­we­gi­an cargo ships, they will be trans­por­ted to vari­ous loc­a­tions for de­struc­tion un­der the veri­fic­a­tion of OP­CW in­spect­ors,” the in­ter­na­tion­al watch­dog agency said in a state­ment. The or­gan­iz­a­tion ad­ded that its per­son­nel in Syr­ia are sup­port­ing pre­par­a­tions to elim­in­ate sev­er­al chem­ic­al-arms man­u­fac­tur­ing sites.

Thursday’s chem­ic­al-arms ship­ment fol­lowed a Wed­nes­day OP­CW an­nounce­ment that two pri­or de­liv­er­ies — one on Fri­day and an­oth­er on Monday — had left Syr­ia through the coun­try’s Latakia sea­port. Taken to­geth­er, the trans­fers ap­peared to re­flect an in­crease in the pace of re­mov­al as pre­dicted late last month by Sigrid Kaag, the spe­cial co­ordin­at­or of a U.N.-OP­CW mis­sion over­see­ing the dis­arm­a­ment pro­cess.

Dam­as­cus ini­tially was sched­uled to fin­ish send­ing its weapons agents over­seas by early Feb­ru­ary, lay­ing the ground­work for full de­struc­tion of the sub­stances by the end of June. However, in­ter­na­tion­al plan­ners ex­ten­ded the re­mov­al timeline in­to April after the re­gime missed pri­or tar­gets.

As­sad’s gov­ern­ment blamed delays on op­pos­i­tion threats to the ma­ter­i­als dur­ing trans­port to the Latakia pickup point. However, U.N. Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon de­term­ined that Dam­as­cus was equipped to move faster, and the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil last month form­ally urged the re­gime to boost the ef­fort’s speed. The delays re­portedly also promp­ted Wash­ing­ton to re­vis­it op­tions to act against the gov­ern­ment in Syr­ia’s civil war, which is now en­ter­ing its fourth year.

The latest ship­ment — the re­gime’s el­ev­enth since Janu­ary — means that As­sad has sur­rendered 49.3 per­cent of his chem­ic­al-war­fare ma­ter­i­als to date, ac­cord­ing to OP­CW fig­ures. That amount in­cludes 34.8 per­cent of the “Pri­or­ity 1” sub­stances deemed to be his dead­li­est chem­ic­al as­sets, as well as 82.6 per­cent of his lower-grade stocks.

In a re­lated de­vel­op­ment, Ger­many on Wed­nes­day said it is in­vest­ig­at­ing wheth­er com­pan­ies with­in its bor­ders il­leg­ally equipped Syr­ia in the 1980s and 1990s with ma­ter­i­als cap­able of sup­port­ing chem­ic­al-arms pro­duc­tion, Re­u­ters re­por­ted. Ger­man busi­nesses might have sup­plied Syr­ia with mech­an­ic­al equip­ment, con­trol sys­tems and sul­fur­ic acid suit­able for man­u­fac­tur­ing sar­in nerve agent, ac­cord­ing to a Wed­nes­day news re­port by Sued­deutsche Zei­tung.

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