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Weapons inspectors list priorities for ridding Syria of chemical weapons
- Article by: TOBY STERLING
- Associated Press
- September 29, 2013 - 6:16 PM
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Inspectors who will oversee Syria’s destruction of its chemical weapons said Sunday their first priority is to help the country scrap its ability to manufacture such arms by a Nov. 1 deadline — using every means possible.
The chemical weapons inspectors said that may include smashing mixing equipment with sledgehammers, blowing up delivery missiles, driving tanks over empty shells or filling them with concrete, and running machines without lubricant so they seize up and become inoperable.
The U.N. Security Council ordered the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Friday to help Syria destroy its chemical weapons by mid-2014.
Inspectors met with reporters on Sunday in The Hague to explain their plan, which is to include an initial group of 20 leaving for Syria on Monday.
The organization allowed two inspectors to speak on condition of anonymity; both are veteran members of the OPCW. Spokesman Michael Luhan said the men “are going to be deeply involved in Syria.”
“This isn’t just extraordinary for the OPCW. This hasn’t been done before: an international mission to go into a country, which is involved in a state of conflict and amid that conflict oversee the destruction of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction, which it possesses,” Luhan said. “This is definitely a historical first.”
Syria acknowledged for the first time it has chemical weapons after an Aug. 21 poison gas attack killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb and President Obama threatened a military strike in retaliation. A U.N. investigation found that nerve gas was used in the attack but stopped short of blaming it on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
After a flurry of diplomatic negotiations involving the United States, Syria, and Syrian ally Russia, Syria made an initial voluntary disclosure of its program to the Hague-based OPCW. Under organization’s rules, the amounts and types of weapons in Syria’s stockpiles, and the number and location of the sites, will not be publicly disclosed.
The United States and Russia agree that Syria has roughly 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons agents and precursors, including blister agents such as sulfur and mustard gas, and nerve agents like sarin. External experts say they are distributed over 50 to 70 sites.
Inspectors to arrive in waves
The investigators said members of the initial group of 20 will meet with counterparts from Syria’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday and begin planning. A week later, the OPCW mission will be expanded to a larger number of investigators who will arrive in waves and begin visiting sites and disabling equipment. At the same time, they will be examining sites for their suitability as places to eventually destroy chemicals and ready-to-fire weapons, which is usually done by incineration.
Protection for OPCW staff will be provided primarily by the Syrian government, with support from the U.N., which has a long-standing working relationship with the OPCW and lines of communication open with rebel groups.
After the initial phase of destroying Syria’s ability to manufacture weapons, the actual destruction phase will take far longer and be more expensive, the second expert said.
Assad gives assurance
Syria’s president vowed Sunday to abide by the U.N. resolution.
Speaking to Italy’s RAI News 24 TV, Assad said his government approved of the U.N. Security Council plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program, and also agreed to join the international convention that outlaws such arms.
“Of course we have to comply. This is our history to comply with every treaty we sign,” he said in a video posted on his official Facebook page.
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