WASHINGTON – The Syrian government submitted an “initial disclosure” of its chemical weapons to international inspectors, officials said Friday, the first step under an ambitious deal that aims to eliminate President Bashar Assad’s illicit poison gas arsenal.
Experts at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, Netherlands, began translating the document from Arabic and reviewing its contents, but organization officials released few details.
It thus wasn’t clear if Syria’s disclosure met the terms of last week’s U.S.-Russian agreement, which called for Assad to submit by Saturday “a comprehensive listing, including names, types and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions and location and form of storage, production and research and development facilities.”
An official from the disarmament organization, the implementation arm for the Chemical Weapons Convention, described the Syrian document as incomplete, telling Reuters, “We have received part of the verification, and we expect more.”
The Obama administration greeted the development cautiously. “We’re going to take a look at the document and see what it says,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “So I’m not going to say one way or another whether they’ve met their obligations.”
Administration officials had signaled that they didn’t expect Syria to meet the Saturday deadline, saying they expected only to see “forward momentum” from Assad. The United States blames Assad’s military for an Aug. 21 poison gas attack in Damascus suburbs that it says killed more than 1,400 people. Syria maintains the attack was a “provocation” by rebels.
Syria’s disclosure comes days before world leaders gather at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. The U.N. Security Council is wrestling with the Syrian crisis but so far has not agreed on a resolution, with the United States sharply at odds with Russia over the language of any resolution laying out how Assad is to meet his obligations.
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and said they discussed “a resolution that is firm and strong within the United Nations.”
Under the plan, inspectors are to begin work in Syria by November and Syria’s entire weapons program, including an estimated 1,100 tons of mustard, sarin and VX gases, would be impounded, removed or destroyed by mid-2014.