U.S. Envoy Accuses Assad of Slow-Walking Chemical Arms Removal

Workers handle a mock chemical munition at a German disposal site last October. A U.S. envoy on Thursday accused Syria's government of delaying the elimination of its chemical arsenal by "bargaining" for unnecessary security equipment.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
Jan. 30, 2014, 9:22 a.m.

The United States on Thursday as­ser­ted that Syr­ia is slow­ing the dis­man­tle­ment of its chem­ic­al ar­sen­al by “bar­gain­ing” for un­needed se­cur­ity gear.

Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s re­gime has de­man­ded “ar­mored jack­ets for ship­ping con­tain­ers, elec­tron­ic coun­ter­meas­ures and de­tect­ors for im­pro­vised ex­plos­ive devices” to help trans­port its war­fare chem­ic­als to a coastal city for re­mov­al by for­eign ships, said Robert Miku­lak, Wash­ing­ton’s am­bas­sad­or to the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons in the Hag­ue.

However, such pleas “are without mer­it,” and could threaten an in­ter­na­tion­al ef­fort to elim­in­ate the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment’s chem­ic­al-arms stock­pile by an end-of-June dead­line, the en­voy told a gath­er­ing of the 41-na­tion OP­CW Ex­ec­ut­ive Coun­cil.

“It is es­sen­tial that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment es­tab­lish a plan that will give the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity con­fid­ence that move­ments will be made reg­u­larly” to send its war­fare chem­ic­als abroad for de­struc­tion, he said in pre­pared re­marks to the OP­CW gov­ern­ing body. The chem­ic­al-weapons watch­dog agency is over­see­ing the dis­arm­a­ment op­er­a­tion, which began in the af­ter­math of an Au­gust nerve-gas strike al­legedly re­spons­ible for more than 1,400 deaths, in­clud­ing wo­men and chil­dren.

Re­mov­al of the weapons has pro­ceeded slower than planned. Less than one-twen­ti­eth of the stocks had left the coun­try as of Wed­nes­day, leav­ing in­ter­na­tion­al au­thor­it­ies far from their ini­tial goal of wrap­ping up re­mov­al by Feb. 5.

For months, West­ern na­tions re­portedly have been res­ist­ing re­quests from Syr­ia’s gov­ern­ment for chem­ic­al-se­cur­ity equip­ment that it might turn against rebels in the coun­try’s bloody civil war. Miku­lak said Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al-war­fare as­sets “have of­ten been moved dur­ing the on­go­ing con­flict without such equip­ment, demon­strat­ing that Syr­ia has been able to en­sure suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion to date with its cur­rent cap­ab­il­it­ies, and without this ad­di­tion­al ‘wish list’ of equip­ment.”

The U.S. of­fi­cial noted that the dis­arm­a­ment op­er­a­tion’s in­ter­na­tion­al over­seers now agree that Dam­as­cus is ad­equately equipped to safely trans­port the chem­ic­als.

Dam­as­cus, though, last week said it is com­mit­ted to send­ing its chem­ic­al stock­pile over­seas “as soon as pos­sible,” ac­cord­ing to OP­CW Dir­ect­or Gen­er­al Ah­met Üzüm­cü.

A seni­or As­sad en­voy said Dam­as­cus is “mak­ing in­tens­ive ef­forts to pre­pare for, and ac­cel­er­ate, the trans­port­a­tion of chem­ic­als, and that it is cur­rently work­ing on a tent­at­ive sched­ule for com­plet­ing the trans­port­a­tion of chem­ic­als,” Üzüm­cü said in a state­ment to his agency’s gov­ern­ing board. The top OP­CW of­fi­cial provided no fur­ther de­tails.

Not­ing a sep­ar­ate con­cern on Thursday, Miku­lak said As­sad’s gov­ern­ment wants to elim­in­ate sev­er­al sub­ter­ranean and above-ground chem­ic­al-weapon fa­cil­it­ies through meth­ods that fall short of full de­struc­tion.

Steps such as “weld­ing doors shut and con­struct­ing in­teri­or obstacles … are read­ily re­vers­ible with­in days and clearly do not meet the re­quire­ment of ‘phys­ic­ally des­troyed’ as provided for by the [Chem­ic­al Weapons] Con­ven­tion,” he said.

He urged the OP­CW gov­ern­ing board to “re­ject Syr­ia’s pro­pos­al to ‘in­ac­tiv­ate’ its hangar and tun­nel [chem­ic­al-weapon pro­duc­tion fa­cil­it­ies], rather than phys­ic­ally des­troy­ing them as the CWC re­quires.”

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