Will Syrian Rebels Aid or Impede Arms Inspection?
October 17, 2013
Alan Cowell and Anne Barnard / The New York Times & Marlise Simons / The New York Times
Pressure has been intensifying on US-backed Syrian rebels to permit access to chemical weapons sites in areas under their control, as officials said the rapidly shifting lines in the civil war made it difficult for inspectors to reach some locations and called for all parties to ease the process of dismantling Syria's toxic arms. Expectations are muted given Washington's shadowy history -- which includes President George W. Bush's successful attempt to remove the head of the OPCW in 2002.
Syrian Rebels Urged to Let Inspectors See Arms Sites
Alan Cowell and Anne Barnard / The New York Times
LONDON (October 14, 2013) -- Pressure intensified on Syrian rebels on Monday to permit access to chemical weapons sites in areas under their control, as officials said the rapidly shifting lines in the civil war made it difficult for inspectors to reach some locations and called for all parties to ease the process of dismantling Syria's toxic arms.
A Western diplomat in the Arab world said that though the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons under an international agreement, its opponents should also cooperate in the process, because several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory.
"The international community also expects full cooperation from the opposition," the diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a delicate issue. "However divided the opposition might be, it would look very bad if the government was seen to be cooperating fully, while inspections were held up because of problems with the opposition."
The inspection team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog group in charge of implementing the agreement along with the United Nations, has not publicly cited any specific instance of opposition fighters' impeding access to chemical weapons sites.
As with agencies that deliver relief aid, the inspectors face a complicated and uncertain process that requires cease-fires with multiple parties among fluid lines of combat.
Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the inspection group, which won the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday, told the BBC that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had been cooperating with inspectors, who had reached 5 of 20 chemical weapons production sites.
But some other sites had "access problems," he said, reflecting perils and complexities facing inspectors who are trying to dismantle chemical weapons facilities as the war rages around them.
Some roads "change hands from one day to another, which is why we appeal to all sides in Syria to support this mission, to be cooperative and not render this mission more difficult," Mr. Uzumcu said. "It's already challenging."
The diplomat said there were clear signs from inspectors in Syria "that the government is delivering on its responsibilities," adding that "the opposition needs to hear a clear signal that they must play their part, too, in making sure that the inspectors have free and unhindered access to the chemical weapons sites with complete safety and security."
The challenges of operating in Syria were underscored by the abduction of seven aid workers in northern Syria on Sunday. On Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that four of the seven -- three of its staff members and a volunteer from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent -- had been released. But there was no word on the other three abducted Red Cross personnel.
The inspectors began arriving in Syria on Oct. 1 under an agreement brokered by the United States and Russia for Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons capability after a poison gas attack on Aug. 21 in a suburb of Damascus. Mr. Assad has denied accusations from the United States that Syrian government forces were responsible for the attack, which killed hundreds of people.
The agreement to destroy Syria's arsenal defused American and French threats to launch military strikes against targets in Syria in retaliation for the attack.
Mr. Uzumcu said inspectors from his organization, which is based in The Hague, had been so close to the fighting that mortar shells had exploded "next to the hotel where our team is staying, and there are exchanges for fire not far from where they go."
Last Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to the organization, which was founded in 1997. The organization and the United Nations together have a team of about 60 experts and support staff in Syria, the BBC reported.
Mr. Uzumcu said the Nobel award had come as "a very big boost of morale to them."
"They are working in very challenging circumstances in the field," he said. "In awarding the prize, they said it was about recognizing the work of the past 16 years, but also the work that lies ahead, in Syria."
The inspectors are facing a tight deadline set by the United Nations to complete their work by mid-2014.
In a report to the United Nations Security Council on Oct. 7, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that the most difficult phase of work would start in November, when the teams of inspectors and United Nations personnel -- a total of about 100 people -- turn to the task of destroying an estimated 1,000 tons of precursor chemicals and weapons after disabling production facilities.
On Monday, Syria became the 190th member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons by formally acceding to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which is intended to rid the world of such munitions. Officials at the organization said there would be no formal ceremony of accession.
Highlighting the perils of working in Syria, activist groups there said a car bombing in a northwestern market town under rebel control in Idlib Province killed at least 12 people on Monday, The Associated Press reported. Some activists put the number of dead as high as 20.
Since it began as a crackdown on civil protest in March 2011, the war has claimed more than 100,000 lives. In recent days, car bombings appear to have become more prevalent, with two such attacks near the state television building in Damascus on Sunday.
Alan Cowell reported from London, and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon.
How GWB Fired the Head of the OPCW:
To Ousted Boss, Arms Watchdog
Was Seen as an Obstacle in Iraq
Marlise Simons / The New York Times
PARIS (October 13, 2013) -- More than a decade before the international agency that monitors chemical weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize, John R. Bolton marched into the office of its boss to inform him that he would be fired.
"He told me I had 24 hours to resign," said José Bustani, who was director general of the agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. "And if I didn't I would have to face the consequences."
Mr. Bolton, then an under secretary of state and later the American ambassador to the United Nations, told Mr. Bustani that the Bush administration was unhappy with his management style.
But Mr. Bustani, 68, who had been re-elected unanimously just 11 months earlier, refused, and weeks later, on April 22, 2002, he was ousted in a special session of the 145-nation chemical weapons watchdog.
The story behind his ouster has been the subject of interpretation and speculation for years, and Mr. Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat, has kept a low profile since then. But with the agency thrust into the spotlight with news of the Nobel Prize last week, Mr. Bustani agreed to discuss what he said was the real reason: the Bush administration's fear that chemical weapons inspections in Iraq would conflict with Washington's rationale for invading it.
Several officials involved in the events, some speaking publicly about them for the first time, confirmed his account.
Mr. Bolton insists that Mr. Bustani was ousted for incompetence. In a telephone interview on Friday, he confirmed that he had confronted Mr. Bustani. "I told him if he left voluntarily we would give him a gracious and dignified exit," he said.
As Mr. Bustani tells the story, the campaign against him began in late 2001, after Iraq and Libya had indicated that they wanted to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international treaty that the watchdog agency oversees.
To join, countries have to provide a list of stockpiles and agree to the inspection and destruction of weapons, as Syria did last month after applying. Inspectors from the agency were making plans to visit Iraq in late January 2002, he said.
"We had a lot of discussions because we knew it would be difficult," Mr. Bustani, who is now Brazil's ambassador to France, said Friday in his embassy office in Paris. The plans, which he had conveyed to a number of countries, "caused an uproar in Washington," he said. Soon, he was receiving warnings from American and other diplomats.
"By the end of December 2001, it became evident that the Americans were serious about getting rid of me," he said. "People were telling me, ‘They want your head.' "
Mr. Bolton called on Mr. Bustani a second time. "I tried to persuade him not to put the organization through the vote," Mr. Bolton said.
But still Mr. Bustani refused, and his fate was sealed. The United States had marshaled its allies, and at an extraordinary session, Mr. Bustani was ousted by a vote of 48 to 7, with 43 abstentions. He was reportedly the first head of an international organization to be pushed out of office this way, and some diplomats said the pressure campaign had made them uneasy.
Mr. Bolton's office had also circulated a document that accused Mr. Bustani of abrasive conduct and taking "ill-considered initiatives" without consulting with the United States and other member nations, diplomats said.
But Mr. Bustani and some senior officials, both in Brazil and the United States, say Washington acted because it believed that the organization under Mr. Bustani threatened to become an obstacle to the administration's plans to invade Iraq.
As justification, Washington was claiming that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, possessed chemical weapons, but Mr. Bustani said his own experts had told him that those weapons were destroyed in the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf war.
"Everybody knew there weren't any," he said. "An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would completely nullify the decision to invade."
Mr. Bolton disputed that account. "He made that argument after we invaded," he said. Twice during the interview, Mr. Bolton said, "The kind of person who believes that argument is the kind who puts tin foil on his ears to ward off cosmic waves."
But diplomats in The Hague said officials in Washington had circulated a document saying that the chemical weapons watchdog under Mr. Bustani was seeking an "inappropriate role in Iraq," which was really a matter for the United Nations Security Council.
Avis Bohlen, a career diplomat who served as Mr. Bolton's deputy before her retirement, said in a telephone interview from Washington on Saturday that others besides Mr. Bolton believed that Mr. Bustani had "stepped over some lines" in connection with Iraq and other matters. "The episode was very unpleasant for all concerned," she said.
Speaking from São Paulo, Brazil, on Saturday, Celso Lafer, the former Brazilian foreign minister, said that in early 2002, he was asked to meet privately with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who a year earlier had praised Mr. Bustani's leadership in a letter.
Mr. Lafer said Mr. Powell told him, " ‘I have people in the administration who don't want Bustani to stay, and my role is to inform you of this.' "
"It was a complicated process," Mr. Lafer recalled, "with the United States and particularly John Bolton and Donald Rumsfeld wanting the head of Bustani."
"My view," he continued, "is that the neocons wanted the freedom to act without multilateral constraints and, with Bustani wanting to act with more independence, this would limit their freedom of action."
Getting Mr. Bustani fired took some doing. Washington failed to obtain a no-confidence motion from the chemical weapons watchdog's executive council. Then the United States, which was responsible for 22 percent of the agency's budget at the time, threatened to cut off its financing and warned that several other countries, including Japan, would follow suit, diplomats have said.
Mr. Bustani recalled that the ambassador from Britain, one of the agency's most committed member nations, told him that London had sent instructions to vote with Washington. With the United States and Japan covering almost half the budget, the organization ran the risk of collapsing, Mr. Bustani said.
On Friday, while fielding a flow of messages in his office, Mr. Bustani said he felt gratified about the Nobel Prize news and did not regret his days at the agency. "I had to start it from the beginning, create a code of conduct, a program of technical assistance," he said. "We almost doubled the membership."
He reflected on the contrast between Iraq and Syria. Inspectors from the agency are there now, cataloging the government's stockpiles of chemical weapons as a step forward in Syria's civil war, now in its third year.
"In 2002, the US was determined to oppose Iraq joining the convention against the weapons, which it did not even have," he said. "This time, joining the convention and having the inspectors present is part of the Syrian peace plan. It is such a fundamental shift."
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