Syria's Chemical Weapons Compliance Better than US
September 24, 2013
AntiWar.com & The Associated Press & The Washington Times
As the Obama administration presses the United Nations this week to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, it faces the stark reality that the United States has failed to meet a 2012 deadline to destroy its remaining arsenal and has never pressured its closest Middle East ally, Israel, to sign the treaty banning such weapons. The US still possesses some 3,000 metric tons of chemical weapons.
US: Syria's Chemical Weapons List 'Surprisingly Complete'
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(September 23, 2013) -- US officials were all set for Syria to miss the seven day "deadline" to deliver its lists official accounting of chemical weapons, but Syria took them by surprise, delivering the list a day early.
US officials familiar with the disclosure to the Office for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) say that the list is also surprisingly complete, which managed to lead officials to concede that it was an "encouraging" sign.
It is, of course, but that's not the narrative the US has been pushing, and they've been so eager to dub Syria in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in the days since they signed it and so desperate to get international authorization for a war when that first inevitable hiccup comes, that an admission of progress is really surprising.
Beyond the US, Syrian President Bashar Assad affirmed his government's willingness to let international experts access the sites, saying they'd be fine with doing so more or less immediately, but warning that some of the sites might not be easy to reach because of fighting with rebels.
That concern is very real, with Syria in the middle of an enormous civil war. Though officials see this as a process to be wrapped up by mid-2014, the reality is that it has been a multi-decade problem in other nations, and those nations didn't have civil wars to complicate matters.
Assad Welcomes International Experts to Access Chemical Sites
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(September 23, 2013) -- After ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and delivering Syria's accounting of its chemical weapons arsenal to the OPCW ahead of schedule, Syrian President Bashar Assad indicated his eagerness to get the disarmament program going.
In an interview with Chinese media today, Assad said Syria was ready to provide access to the sites to all international experts involved in the disarmament. The experts' inspections are the next stage in the process, and while overseas officials have provided no specific timetable for that, Assad suggested they could come at any time.
Assad said getting the inspectors to the sites was not going to be a problem, but warned that rebel fighters might make some of the sites harder to reach. The rebels have condemned the disarmament deal.
Officials have expressed hope that Syria's disarmament could be completed by mid-2014. This seems wildly optimistic, as both Russia and the US repeatedly missed deadlines on their own arsenals, and decades after starting the process both are still far from disarmed.
If Syria's can truly be done in nine months in the middle of a civil war, it is bound to raise questions of why a US disarmament started in the Nixon Administration is still going on nearly half a century later.
Assad: Syria Will Allow
Access to Chemical Sites
DAMASCUS, Syria (September 23, 2013) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad said his government will allow international experts access to its chemical weapons sites, but cautioned in an interview broadcast Monday that rebels might block them from reaching some of the locations.
In an interview with Chinese state TV, Assad said his government is dedicated to implementing a Russia-US agreement to surrender its chemical weapons to international control. The accord, brokered last week in Geneva, promises inspectors on the ground in Syria by November.
The government, he said, won't have "any problem" taking experts to sites where the weapons are kept but some of the places might be difficult to reach because of ongoing fighting between the Syrian army and rebels battling the regime, whom he called "gunmen."
"I'm referring to places where gunmen exist. Those gunmen might want to stop the experts' arrival," Assad told China's CCTV.
Assad's government met a first deadline under a US-Russia agreement aimed at swiftly ridding Syria of its chemical arsenal, submitting last week what was supposedly the full list of its chemical weapons and production facilities to the UN agency so they can be secured and destroyed.
While on the ground in Syria, the experts will complete an initial assessment and arrange for the destruction of all mixing and filling equipment for chemical weapons. All components of the chemical weapons program are to be removed from the country or destroyed by mid-2014.
In the interview with the Chinese TV filmed Sunday in the Syrian capital, Damascus, Assad said Syria has already handed over a list of chemical weapons to an international agency. He said his government will ensure that experts arrive "at the places where we produce and store our chemical weapons."
Technical experts at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Saturday they were reviewing disclosures from Syria about its chemical weapons program. The content of the Syrian declarations has not been made public.
US officials said last week that Washington and Moscow agreed that Syria had roughly 1,100 tons of chemical weapons agents and precursors, including blister agents, such as sulfur and mustard gas, and nerve agents like sarin.
The revelations of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal became public after an August attack near Damascus that the US and its Western allies say has contained a nerve agent and killed 1,400 people. Activists groups say the death toll of the Aug. 21 attack in eastern Ghouta that brought Washington to the brink of military intervention in Syria was significantly lower.
In the aftermath of the attack, a UN report concluded that sarin had been used.
Meanwhile, an al-Qaida group in Syria said one of its top commanders was killed in an ambush by rival, Western-backed rebels in a northern Syria province.
It was the latest incident in rising infighting among rebel groups in the country's north, where the opposition controls large parts of territory captured from Assad's troops.
The group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant said its commander in Idlib province, Abu Abdullah al-Libi, was ambushed by members of the Free Syrian Army near a border crossing with Turkey.
The attackers sprayed the car with bullets on Sunday, killing al-Libi, which is not a real name but a nom de guerre, according to the group's statement, published on a militant website Sunday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that monitors the conflict, confirmed al-Libi's death, saying he was killed along with 12 other al-Qaida fighters near the village of Hazanu, six miles away from the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey.
Syria's civil war has left more than 100,000 dead since the conflict erupted in March 2011 and displaced millions of people.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Foot-draggers: US and Russia Slow to Destroy Own Chemical Weapons Amid Syria Smackdown
Guy Taylor / The Washington Time
WASHINGTON, DC (September 22, 2012) -- As the Obama administration presses the United Nations this week to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, it faces the stark reality that the United States has failed to meet a 2012 deadline to destroy its remaining arsenal and has never pressured its closest Middle East ally, Israel, to sign the treaty banning such weapons.
The United States possesses some 3,000 metric tons of chemical weapons. Although 90 percent of the stockpile declared by Washington upon signing the weapons ban in 1993 has been destroyed, efforts to neutralize the remaining munitions have slowed to a trickle in recent years.
Russia, meanwhile, has destroyed 60 percent of its declared stockpile and has some 16,000 metric tons left to be neutralized, according to a November report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- the Netherlands-based body that oversees the ban treaty.
Moscow and Washington have failed over the past 20 years to live up to promises of destroying their stockpiles as a result of what weapons analysts describe as a mountain of financial, logistical and environmental burdens that have come to be associated with the process.
Skeptics fear that the US-Russian plan for securing Syria's weapons will get mired by similar factors.
The Israel Factor
The US and Russian failures to meet deadlines of the Chemical Weapons Convention may serve as cover for Israel, which signed the treaty in 1993 but has never ratified it. The Israeli government, however, remains more focused on regional threats than any diplomatic dance with Washington and Moscow.
"While Israel signed the convention, other countries in the Middle East, including those that have used chemical weapons recently or in the past, or are believed to be working to improve their chemical capabilities, have failed to follow suit and have indicated that their position would remain unchanged even if Israel ratifies," said Aarn Sagui, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
"The chemical weapons threat against Israel and its civilian population is neither theoretical nor distant," Mr. Sagui said in an email to The Washington Times. "Terror organizations, acting as proxies for certain regional states, similarly pose a chemical weapons threat."
Although Iran signed the chemical weapons ban in 1993 and ratified it in 1997, analysts say, Israel's unwillingness to come clean about its own suspected stocks is rooted in concerns that neighboring Syria and Egypt have never done so.
That Syria is suddenly moving toward becoming a signatory to the weapons ban and will be "giving up its chemical weapons is all the more reason for Israel to ratify," said Tom Z. Collina, director of research at the Washington-based Arms Control Association.
Others argue that the specter of hypocrisy hanging over Washington's posture toward Israel on the chemical weapons issue is irrelevant because Jerusalem is such a close ally.
"We believe in nonproliferation, but some countries worry us more than others," said Douglas Bandow, a senior fellow specializing in foreign policy at the Cato Institute.
"I worry more about Iran and North Korea than I do about Israel and France, and that's natural," he said. "Washington's problem is that it wants to uphold a principle, but if you uphold a principle, you can't make exceptions. So that forces us to do a kind of a rhetorical dance."
It remains to be seen whether other nations may attempt to seize upon the issue in New York this week as the UN debates whether to put its full weight behind the US-Russian deal on Syria.
Not in My Backyard
An investigation by The Washington Times, meanwhile, uncovered a host of reasons for why the US has failed to meet the 2012 deadline set by the treaty for destroying the weapons.
Nonproliferation analysts note that Washington and Moscow over the past decade has focused less on their own stocks than on neutralizing chemical weapons in more volatile corners of the world -- namely Libya, Albania and Iraq.
But on the US front, there is also a classic not in my backyard -- or "NIMBY" -- element at play, said James Lewis, the head of communications for the Washington-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.
When Congress signed the ban 20 years ago, said Mr. Lewis, it triggered a backlash among American voters in states where the stockpiles were secretly maintained.
"No one wants a truck of sarin going down their street," he said, explaining how Congress subsequently embarked on the delicate and years-long enterprise of funding and implementing chemical weapons incineration and neutralization programs that met the standards of US environmental law -- while also not backfiring on the local political front.
"I think we bit off a little more than we could chew given the stockpiles we had built," Mr. Lewis said. "Congressmen have to go home from Washington and they can't go home and say, 'Oh, guess what, we just put a chemical weapons disposal facility right there.' If they do that, they're not going to get re-elected."
From Oregon to Indiana, Utah and Maryland, such politics have been playing out for two decades in eight states, with billions of federal dollars pumped toward the expensive process of dismantling the US arsenal without creating environmental hazards for citizens of those states.
Cold War Pork Barrel?
Published reports show US Army estimates of $28 billion to cover the total cost of destroying the US chemical weapons stockpile -- a process not anticipated to be completed before 2021.
That the effort is mired with complications has been known for years in Washington. A 2003 report by the Government Accountability Office said it was in "turmoil," lacked "stable leadership at the upper management levels," and noted that the US was expected to miss "milestones because of schedule delays due to environmental, safety, community relations, and funding issues."
Analysts approached for this story downplayed the notion that the slowness with which the US has gone about destroying its stockpile might be a result of a Cold War-style dance between Washington and Moscow in which neither wishes to be the first to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile.
That the business of weapons destruction might also be slow because it serves as a so-called pork barrel issue for states where the stockpiles exist is also unlikely. "I don't think there any politicians eager to hang their hat on this as a way of bringing money into their district," Mr. Lewis said.
Significant progress in the program has been made by last year. Operations at six sites have been completed, and the remaining 10 percent of the original stockpile is now housed in two states -- Kentucky and Colorado.
What's left in those states is slated to be destroyed through a highly technical process known as "oxidation," a method deemed environmentally safer but more expensive than the previously used technique of incineration.
What It Means for Syria
Big uncertainties remain over how international operatives will go about securing the Syrian cache, as well as where and how it will be destroyed.
Those questions appeared to weigh heavily this month on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. Construction is under way on a chemical weapons oxidation facility at the Blue Grass Army Depot in his state.
"As we've seen in my own state," Mr. McConnell said during a Sept. 10 appearance on the Senate floor, "destroying chemical weapons is extremely challenging and requires a great deal of attention to detail and safety."
In offering tepid support for the deal between Moscow and Washington, the senator reminded his colleagues that the path to "eventually securing, and destroying" Syria's stockpile is "still a long way off."
While the US-Russia deal has won praise from both sides of the aisle in Washington, some lawmakers have been downright scornful.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, has been one of the more vocal critics, claiming Moscow simply cannot be trusted on the chemical weapons front.
"It is especially troubling that Russia is taking the lead in Syria when it has repeatedly failed to comply with its own international commitments," Mr. Barrasso said in a statement exclusive to The Times. "Russia has proven time and time again that we can't trust them -- and that they aren't working in our best interests."
The Sept. 14 framework agreement reached between Washington and Moscow calls for the complete "removal and destruction" of Syria's chemicals weapons by the "first half of 2014."
Mr. Collina, at the Arms Control Association, says the timeline is ambitious, but could be met if international operatives move quickly to collect and then ship Syria's weapons to a third nation. "They've got this option of taking the stuff out of the country, so you could reasonably do that by the end of next year," he said.
According to Mr. Lewis, at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the most likely destination is Russia, which means a ripple effect can be expected with regard to Russia's chemical weapons destruction operations. "If it goes to Russia, they'd be using their existing destruction facilities and that would set them back even further," he said.
But, Mr. Collina said, such concerns should not be a factor right now. "The biggest priority is to either destroy these materials in Syria or remove them from Syria as soon as possible," he said. "The fact that it might slow down the chemical weapons destruction in some other country such as the US or Russia would be an acceptable price to pay."
Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC
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