Chemical Weapons - Destruction
Under a US-Russian deal clinched in September 2013, Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles was to be destroyed by June 30, 2014. The September agreement with Russia and the United States averted US military strikes in response to the worst chemical weapons attack in decades, which Washington and its European allies blamed on Assad. In May 2014 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that a June 30 deadline for the destruction of all of Syria's declared chemical weapons would not be met.
Inspectors overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal have asked President Bashar al-Assad's government to clarify disparities in its original declaration on its cache of toxic gas, UN diplomats said on 04 June 2014. Western officials want the United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission to continue to investigate numerous ambiguities in Syria's chemical weapons declaration, which have become increasingly glaring in the course of the mission's work. UN officials have cited US, French and British intelligence that Assad's government had failed to disclose all of its poison gas stocks in its original declaration, leaving it with the capability to produce and deploy chemical arms.
The elimination of the Syrian government’s chemical arsenal by mid-2014 was realistic if all involved parties cooperate, including with ceasefires, the head of an international watchdog in charge of the task said Wednesday 09 October 2013. “Elimination of those weapons is in the interest of all,” Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told a news conference in The Hague. “Sometimes temporary ceasefires are needed in order to let the experts do their work. The targets could be reached if all parties cooperate. So far, the Syrian authorities have been cooperative,” Uzumcu continued. He said that specialists from his organization started their mission in Syria on 07 October and had so far inspected one site, with more than 20 other sites slated to be visited in the coming weeks. Syrian authorities on 06 October began destroying containers and devices used to deploy chemical weapons, Uzumcu said. The state also intends to render all chemical-arms-making facilities unusable by November 1, he added.
The international watchdog overseeing Syria's destruction of its chemical weapons program said the country met the deadline to destroy equipment used to make the arms. Michael Luhan, spokesman for the the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said the Assad government had cooperated with the internationally-imposed deadline. “We consider that this first stage of verifying Syria's initial declaration of its chemical weapons program and verifying Syria's destruction of its production- making facilities in mixing and filling plants that that has all been achieved," Luhan said 31 October 2013. The next step would be to destroy the chemicals and binary agents that were in Syria's existing weapons stockpile of around 1,000 tons.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon on 28 January 2014 said he had expressed concern to the Syrian government of its "now behind schedule" elimination of chemical weapon and said it was "imperative" Damascus "intensify its efforts." Ban said in a letter sent to the UN Security Council on Tuesday that he was aware of the "volatile security situation" faced by the Syrian government, involved in a nearly three-year-old civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people and displaced more than 6 million people.
On 07 January 2014 priority chemical weapons were moved to the Syrian port of Latakia where they were processed and loaded onto a Danish cargo vessel, which then left the port and set out to sea escorted by a naval ship from "participating member states" of the United Nations. It waited at sea for further chemicals. Britain, China, Danish, Norwegian, Russian and U.S. ships were participating. "Since then, however there has been no further movement of chemical weapons material and the vessels remain positioned outside Syrian territorial waters while waiting for chemical weapons material from the storage sites to arrive at the port of Latakia," Ban said in a letter to the council, accompanying the latest OPCW report, dated 24 January 2014.
"I am concerned that more movements have not taken place," he added, recalled the Dec. 31 deadline for the removal of all priority chemical weapons material had been missed by a few days and "the Feb. 5 deadline to remove other chemical materials is imminent.... The operation to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program is now behind schedule," the secretary-general said. "I have spoken to the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) and other member states concerned to express my concern regarding this delay, " he said. "The director-general of OPCW (Ahmet Uzumcu) and the special coordinator (heading the joint mission, Sigrid Kaag) have similarly engaged senior Syrian representatives to persuade them to enable immediate removal."
"The delay is not insurmountable," Ban said. "The June 30, 2014 deadline is still five months away. However it is imperative that the SAR now examine the situation, intensify its efforts to expedite in-country movements of chemical weapons material and continue to meet its obligations." Uzumcu's report said he had expressed his concern to Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, regarding Syria's reporting obligations and "the substantial expenses being borne by Denmark and Norway with regard to the cargo ships and the potential risks in relation to the commercial tendering process posed by the delay. "
Remains of some of the chemicals used in the weapons being disassembled were to be handled by commercial firms while others are to be treated through hydrolysis aboard a U.S. Navy ship at sea. The chemicals for commercial rendering were to be taken to the port of Giaoia Tauro in southern Italy. Germany said it would destroy effluent during destruction of mustard agent, Belarus provided 13 field kitchens for related work in Syria and Britain said it would provide equipment to support the process of neutralization of chemical warfare agents. More than a dozen countries, including those participating, contributed to a Special Trust Fund for the Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons, which Uzumcu said stood at 13 million euros ( about 17.8 million U.S. dollars) as of 24 January 2014.
Syria failed to meet another key deadline for turning over its chemical weapons stockpile as part of an internationally brokered agreement. Under a February 5 deadline set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Syria was to have given up its complete stockpile. Syria had so far sent only two shipments of chemicals to be destroyed, amounting to less than five percent of its stockpile. The OPCW said Damascus was not doing everything it can to meet that timetable.
A third shipment of chemical weapons material left Syria February 10, 2014 to be destroyed as part of an internationally brokered agreement to rid the country of its chemical weapons arsenal by mid 2014. A statement by the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says the material left the country Monday aboard a Norweigian cargo vessel accompanied by a naval escort from China, Denmark, Norway, and Russia. The statement said that some chemical materials were also destroyed inside the country.
By 14 February 2014 Syria had relinquished only 11 percent of its chemical weapons in three shipments, and it increasingly appears the nation will miss a politically-loaded midyear deadline to completely destroy the toxic stockpile. That included only about 5 percent of the most toxic priority chemicals. The important materials had not yet been brought, except a little consignment at the beginning. The next deadline was the end of March 2014, when the most toxic chemicals, including sarin and mustard gas and their precursors, were supposed to have been destroyed outside the country.
Syria presented a new -day plan for the destruction of its chemical weapons 21 February 2014, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The OPCW received a new chemical weapons destruction plan from Syria and is studying it. The OPCW Executive Council will debate the plan during its session on March 4-7. "The Syrian 100 day plan for removal of the chemicals, on which we have been briefed, is not adequate," Philip Hall, head of the British Foreign Office Counter Proliferation Department, told the OPCW. "We now urge the Syrian authorities to accept the proposals submitted by the Operational Planning Group that provide for removal in a much shorter time frame, without compromising on security," he said. The international mission believes the operation can be carried out before the end of March, adding that Syria's proposed end-May deadline would not leave enough time for the chemicals to be destroyed before the end of June.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that by mid-April 2014 Syria had given up nearly two-thirds of its stockpile. However, OPCW chief Ahmed Uzumcu said on 14 April that "both the frequency and the volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly" if Syria is to meet the 30 June deadline.
The United States said 21 April 2014 it had indications that toxic chemicals were released in a rebel area in Syria this month. US State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki said that the United States is looking into allegations that the Syrian government was responsible. She said there is evidence an industrial toxic chemical, likely chlorine, was used in the town of Kfar Zeita. One day earlier, French President Francois Hollande said France also had indications that chemical weapons were still being used in Syria.
France’s Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius said there are strong indications that the Syrian regime recently used chemical weapons in the northwest of the country. "What we have seen from this regime is the horrific methods it is capable of using and the rejection of any political transition," Fabius said during an interview with Europe 1 radio 20 April 2014. Fabius said the recent attacks that may have included chemical weapons were less deadly than the attacks in Damascus a few months ago, but were still deadly. They took place in the northwest of Syria, not far from Lebanon.
Over 92 percent of Syria's chemical stockpile had been removed from the country, Sigrid Kaag head of the combined Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-UN task team told a news conference on 27 April 2014. "(Also) a total of 18 removal operations have been carried out ...and always with due regard for the environment and public safety," she added. In addition to the removal, Damascus has destroyed buildings, equipment, empty mustard gas containers, and decontaminated other containers at several chemical weapons storage and production sites. “We are talking basically of the remaining seven and a half, eight percent of chemicals weapons material that currently still in country in one particular site. Six and a half, roughly, needs to be removed, a small percentage is to be destroyed regardless in country that can be done," she said.
Sigrid Kaag, mission chief of the U.N.'s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said 09 May 2014 that the bulk of Syria's chemical weapons have been removed for destruction, but that 8 percent remain in the government's possession. "In terms of chemical weapons removal for onward destruction, including destruction in country, we've reached significant progress -- 92 percent. However, there is concern, and that we have also expressed as a joint mission, that the remaining 8 percent is currently inaccessible due to the security conditions in country," said Kaag.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius accused Syrian forces of 14 separate chemical weapons attacks in recent months, despite pledges to give them up. Fabius told reporters May 13, 2014 that the attacks include chlorine gas. He said it shows that President Bashar al-Assad is still capable of producing chemical weapons and is willing to use them.
The international chemical weapons watchdog charged with ridding Syria of its stockpile said June 23, 2014 it had received the last of the country's toxic chemicals identified for removal. The head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, said the ship carrying the last of the chemical weapons had just left the Syrian port of Latakia. Uzumcu said it would take up to four months to destroy the 1,300 tons of chemicals declared to the organization. Britain's Deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Peter Wilson, said this represented 'substantial progress,' but there were still 'procedural and factual discrepancies' with the Syrian declaration that need to be resolved.
Sigrid Kaag, the UN coordinator for the entire operation, had previously noted that the OPCW normally discovers discrepancies in the initial declarations of member states. She had also noted that, in this specific case, Syria had very little time to prepare its initial declaration, and was distracted by a civil war raging at the time. She said "While a major chapter in our endeavours closes today, OPCW’s work in Syria will continue. We hope to conclude soon the clarification of certain aspects of the Syrian declaration and commence the destruction of certain structures that were used as chemical weapons production facilities."
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has destroyed 93 percent of chemical weapons agents removed from Syria, according to a report it released on 28 August 2014. “At the cut-off date of this report, 100 percent of the Category 1 chemicals and 65 percent of the Category 2 chemicals had been destroyed, representing a combined total of 93 percent, including the isopropanol previously destroyed in the Syrian Arab Republic”.
The Director-General reported OPCW inspectors have also verified that 70% of approximately 260 tonnes of Syria’s Category 2 chemicals have been destroyed as well, and in total, 94% of its entire declared stockpile. He said work continues to complete destruction of remaining chemicals at four facilities in Finland, the United Kingdom, the United States and eventually, the destruction of effluent from the Cape Ray in Germany.
Israel believed Syria retained stocks of combat-ready chemical weapons after giving up raw materials used to produce such munitions. “There is, to my mind, still in the hands of Syria a significant residual capability ... that could be used in certain circumstances and could be potentially very serious,” the official told Reuters 19 September 2014 on condition of anonymity. The official said Syria had kept some missile warheads, air-dropped bombs and rocket-propelled grenades primed with toxins like sarin. Israeli intelligence estimates were previously not disclosed to avoid undermining the Syrians' surrender of their declared chemical arsenal. The Israeli official said the 1,300 tons of mustard gas and precursors for sarin and VX surrendered by Syria largely matched Israeli assessments of its total stockpile of such materials. The shelf-life of any deployable munitions retained was limited given the chemicals' deterioration.
The dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons facilities was expected to begin in October 2014, and the first of the 12 facilities should be destroyed by the end of November 2014, the organization tasked with eliminating the country's chemical weapons program said October 01, 2014. The report by the director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was sent to the UN Security Council.
The UN Security Council was told 07 October 2014 that Syria had revealed for the first time the existence of four more chemical weapons facilities. Three of the sites were for research and another was for production. The announcement heightened concerns that the Syrian government had not been fully open about its chemical weapons program. No chemical agents had been found at the newly-declared research and production facilities.
By late January 2015 Syria tarted the destruction of a dozen underground bunkers and hangars that were used for the production and storage of chemical weapons. In 2014, the Syrian government handed over 1,300 metric tons of toxic agents after joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). However, Damascus was months behind schedule in destroying the facilities used to make and store the stockpile. Work at a first tunnel began on 24 December 2014, but was delayed by winter storms. The site was set to be sealed off with cement walls by the end of January.
Jacek Bylica, Principal Adviser and Special Envoy for Non-proliferation and Disarmament, European External Action Service stated on 22 October 2015 that "There are discrepancies surrounding both declared and undeclared stockpiles and production facilities. We expect the OPCW to investigate fully the inconsistencies in Syrian declarations. As long as questions remain on both the veracity of Syria's declaration and continuing use of chemical weapons, Syria cannot claim to be in full compliance with its obligations to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the UN and the international community."
Speaking at an annual meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, on 30 November 2015 EU envoy Jacek Bylica told member states that the lack of clarity from Damascus made it "impossible to have confidence that its chemical weapons program has been irreversibly dismantled." Bylica said several reports had uncovered "alarming findings," adding that "more new questions arose than found satisfactory answers."
On 05 April 2017, commenting on reports of a deadly chemical weapons attack this week in Idlib province, Pence blamed a "failure of the past administration to… hold Russia and Syria to account for the promises to destroy chemical weapons."
"In this case, we are dealing with not only irresponsibility, but also with lack of knowledge on the issue. The new US administration has only recently begun to review its policies. When it [the process] is over, estimates we hear from officials will hopefully become more precise. There are no grounds to claim that the 2013 Russia-US deal did not work out," Russian Foreign Ministry’s Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Department Director Mikhail Ulyanov said.
On 14 April 2017, The Telegraph newspaper reported citing Syrian Brig. Gen. Zaher Sakat, who had fled the country four years ago, that Syria still had hundreds of tonnes of chemical weapons after it had handed over 1,300 tonnes of chemical weapons — what it called the country's entire arsenal — to the OPCW in 2014. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov mocked a media report. "The overall volume of chemical agents to be eliminated was estimated at 1,300 tonnes, while the general said yesterday that there had been 2,000 tonnes of chemical weapons [in Syria]. Since the figure of 1,300 tonnes was announced officially… why has the general said nothing about 2,000 tonnes for three years, 700 tonnes is not a small figure.
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