|New York Times||-|
GENEVA - International inspectors have completed verification of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal at 21 of the 23 sites identified by the government, but they have been unable to visit the other two because they are in contested areas in Syria's civil ...
Syria's government is no longer in a position to produce chemical weapons - "as far as their disclosed capabilities is concerned", the head of the team of weapons inspectors has confirmed.
Inspectors Visit All but 2 of Syria’s Declared Chemical Sites
By NICK CUMMING-BRUCE and MICHAEL R. GORDON
Published: October 29, 2013
GENEVA — International inspectors have completed verification of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal at 21 of the 23 sites identified by the government, but they have been unable to visit the other two because they are in contested areas in Syria’s civil war, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement on Monday.
The organization said Sunday that inspectors would complete destruction of equipment for mixing chemicals and filling weapons by the start of November, an important milestone.
But no details are yet available on what kind of facilities are in the two sites inspectors have been unable to visit or the chances for gaining access to them, raising the prospect that Syria will miss some deadlines.
Despite this hurdle, a senior State Department official said Monday that the disarmament process was generally on track and that there “was reason to be optimistic.”
Among the positive signs, the State Department official said, the Syrian government has presented a plan that “seems to be realistic” for the elimination of its chemical weapons arsenal that would allow the removal of precursor chemicals, which are used to make poison gas, so they could be destroyed outside Syria.
That is consistent with the disarmament approach favored by American officials, who believe that it would be the most efficient way to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal by mid-2014 under a plan endorsed last month by the United Nations Security Council.
Just where the destruction of precursor chemicals will take place is not clear. Norway rejected an American request that mobile American destruction equipment be moved there to help destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal. But the State Department official expressed confidence that other nations would agree to serve as destruction sites.
The United States is not among the possible destructions sites. Syrian officials have made it clear that they do not want to hand over their chemical arsenal to the United States, the official said.
He said he was encouraged by the progress in destroying mixing and filling equipment. A more formidable challenge is the destruction of bombs and warheads that are already filled with chemical agents. Russian experts are expected to assist in this task, which would be carried out in Syria.
Syria’s declaration of its chemical arsenal, which was submitted last week, is 714 pages long, according to a European diplomat.
A central question is whether Syria has given complete details of its program and an arsenal estimated to include 1,000 tons of chemicals and nerve agents. Although Syria disclosed 23 sites, American officials said in September that they believed at least 45 sites were involved.
According to a European diplomat who has seen relevant documents, Syria has now reported the existence of 41 chemical weapons facilities at the 23 sites it disclosed, information that may help close the gap between Syria’s disclosure and the figure initially stated by American officials.
It is also possible that Syria’s efforts to consolidate its arsenal may account for the discrepancy. But American officials have not yet concluded that Syria has declared all of its sites where chemical weapons are developed, stored and tested.
The executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is likely to discuss Syria’s declaration early next week and is expected to give its decision on the Syrian plan by mid-November. The sites where Syria’s precursor chemicals are to be destroyed are to be identified by that time.
The two sites the inspectors have not visited are in “contested areas where you need some kind of cease-fire or guarantees for the safety of the inspectors,” Michael Luhan, the agency’s spokesman, said in a telephone interview. It is not clear whether opposition groups control either of the two sites or the territory that inspectors would have to travel through to reach them.
Responsibility for the inspectors’ security, and therefore for negotiating access to sites, lies with the United Nations. Efforts to “ensure the conditions necessary for safe access to those sites will continue,” the agency’s statement said.
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