United Nations Near Agreement with Chemical Agency on Syria Cooperation

A Syrian man walks among rubble of destroyed residential buildings minutes after an airstrike hit Habit village, in the Syrian central province of Hama, Sep. 25, 2013.
National Journal
Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
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Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
Sept. 26, 2013, 9:02 a.m.

LON­DON — The United Na­tions and a Neth­er­lands-based in­ter­na­tion­al or­gan­iz­a­tion re­spons­ible for im­ple­ment­ing the Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion are close to agree­ing on how to de­lin­eate their roles in in­spect­ing and ul­ti­mately elim­in­at­ing Syr­ia’s newly de­clared chem­ic­al arms, ac­cord­ing to key of­fi­cials.

The Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons has been at log­ger­heads with the United Na­tions over the past week or more re­gard­ing which body would ef­fect­ively take more of a lead­ing role in Syr­ia, sources tell Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire.

Un­der a sup­ple­ment­ary agree­ment between the two in­ter­na­tion­al en­tit­ies — pos­sibly to be con­cluded be­fore the end of this week — in­spect­ors would be hired and dis­patched to Syr­ia un­der the OP­CW ae­gis, to veri­fy de­clared chem­ic­al stocks and pre­pare for their elim­in­a­tion.

Lo­gist­ics and se­cur­ity for the team likely would be provided by the United Na­tions, ac­cord­ing to U.N. of­fi­cials and out­side ex­perts.

The United Na­tions has a ba­sic op­er­at­ing pact with the chem­ic­al-treaty or­gan­iz­a­tion and already main­tains some field teams on the ground in Syr­ia, mak­ing col­lab­or­a­tion on the in­spec­tions and lock-down of the Mideast na­tion’s ar­sen­al al­most in­ev­it­able.

However, since the United States and Rus­sia struck their ground­break­ing Sept. 14 ac­cord in re­ac­tion to use of chem­ic­al weapons in Syr­ia, many es­sen­tial de­tails of how the pact would be im­ple­men­ted have yet to be de­term­ined.

“We are look­ing in­to what role we could pos­sibly play,” one U.N. of­fi­cial said in a Wed­nes­day tele­phone in­ter­view.

In line with the U.S.-Rus­sia deal, Syr­ia has just joined the chem­ic­al treaty — which bans the pro­duc­tion, stock­pil­ing or use of the deadly arms — and has is­sued to OP­CW of­fi­cials a con­fid­en­tial de­clar­a­tion on the size and loc­a­tions of its chem­ic­al ar­sen­al.

The de­vel­op­ment fol­lowed the Syr­i­an mil­it­ary’s al­leged use of sar­in gas against its ci­vil­ian pop­u­la­tion on Aug. 21, which Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies say claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people just out­side of cap­it­al city Dam­as­cus.

An in­ter­na­tion­al task force re­turned to Syr­ia on Wed­nes­day to con­tin­ue its in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to sus­pec­ted in­stances of chem­ic­al use in the na­tion’s two-year-old civil war.

The chem­ic­al weapons or­gan­iz­a­tion in the Hag­ue has not yet of­fi­cially shared key de­tails about Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al stocks de­clar­a­tion with the United Na­tions in New York — and it was un­clear on Thursday how much would be re­vealed to the in­ter­na­tion­al body or along what time lines.

OP­CW of­fi­cials are ob­lig­ated to safe­guard chem­ic­al-stock­pile in­form­a­tion provided by mem­ber na­tions.

Se­cur­ity con­sid­er­a­tions could im­pede the wide dis­tri­bu­tion of sens­it­ive in­form­a­tion about the dis­tri­bu­tion and size of Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al ar­sen­al, ac­cord­ing to is­sue ex­perts.

“Con­fid­en­ti­al­ity is an im­port­ant [factor]” in en­sur­ing that chem­ic­al stocks are not put at a high­er se­cur­ity risk fol­low­ing a CWC states-party de­clar­a­tion of the kind made by Syr­ia, said Yasemin Balci, a leg­al of­ficer based here with VER­TIC, an in­de­pend­ent non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion spe­cial­iz­ing in veri­fy­ing in­ter­na­tion­al treat­ies. “That’s a very tricky situ­ation.”

However, the treaty or­gan­iz­a­tion will share data for the pur­poses of states parties be­ing “as­sured of the con­tin­ued com­pli­ance with the con­ven­tion by oth­er states parties,” ac­cord­ing to the Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion.

The ex­pec­ted sup­ple­ment­ary pact between the two en­tit­ies also would likely sort out how op­er­a­tions are to be fun­ded, of­fi­cials said.

An up­com­ing res­ol­u­tion by the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil — still un­der ne­go­ti­ation prin­cip­ally by the United States and Rus­sia — and a de­cision by the OP­CW Ex­ec­ut­ive Coun­cil are to form­al­ize up­com­ing ac­tion on the Syr­i­an stock­pile.

Wash­ing­ton and Mo­scow have not yet agreed on how im­ple­ment­a­tion would be en­forced if Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment balks, or if U.N. or OP­CW in­spec­tions per­son­nel are put at risk.

In­spect­ors in Syr­ia look­ing in­to the al­leged Ghouta at­tack were tar­geted by sniper fire in late Au­gust, though there were no re­por­ted in­jur­ies.

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