Syria meets first deadline on chemical weapons
AMSTERDAM — Syria has handed over information about its chemical arsenal to a UN-backed weapons watchdog, meeting the first deadline of an ambitious disarmament operation that averted the threat of Western air strikes.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said yesterday (Sept 21) it had “received the expected disclosure” from Damascus, 24 hours after saying it had been given a partial document from Syrian authorities.
It said it was reviewing the information, handed over after President Bashar al-Assad agreed to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in the wake of a sarin gas strike in Damascus’s suburbs last month — the world’s deadliest chemical attack in 25 years.
Washington blamed Assad’s forces for the attack, which it said killed more than 1,400 people. Assad blamed rebels battling to overthrow him, saying it made no sense for his forces to use chemical weapons when they were gaining the upper hand and while UN chemical inspectors were staying in central Damascus.
The timetable for disarmament was laid down by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a week ago in Geneva when they set aside sharp differences over Syria to address the chemical weapons issue.
Their plan set yesterday as a deadline for Syria to give a full account of the weapons it possesses. Security experts say it has about 1,000 metric tons of mustard gas, VX and sarin — the nerve gas UN inspectors found had been used in the August 21 attack.
The US State Department said on Friday, after the OPCW announced Syria’s initial declaration, that it was studying the material. “An accurate list is vital to ensure the effective implementation,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
Once the OPCW executive has voted to follow the Lavrov-Kerry plan in a meeting expected early next week, the Security Council is due to give its endorsement of the arrangements - marking a rare consensus after two years of East-West deadlock over Syria.