Syria details part of chemical arsenal, more to come

THE HAGUE/BEIRUT Fri Sep 20, 2013 1:00pm EDT

1 of 6. Children walk among debris from a damaged school building in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka September 19, 2013. Picture taken September 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Abou Nidal alshami

THE HAGUE/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria gave details of some of its chemical weapons to the OPCW arms watchdog at The Hague on Friday but needs to fill in gaps by next week to launch a rapid disarmament operation that may avert U.S. air strikes.

At the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the U.N.-backed agency which is to oversee the removal of President Bashar al-Assad's arsenal, a spokeswoman said: "We have received part of the verification and we expect more."

She did not say what was missing from a document one U.N. diplomat described as "quite long". The OPCW'S 41-member Executive Council is due to meet early next week to review Syria's inventory and to agree on implementing last week's U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate the entire arsenal in nine months.

The timetable was set down by U.S. 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 agree on a plan to deprive Assad of chemical weapons and so remove the immediate threat from Washington of launching military action.

That plan set a rough deadline of Saturday for Syria to give a full account of the weapons it possesses. Security experts say it has about 1,000 tonnes of mustard gas, VX and sarin - the nerve agent U.N. inspectors found after hundreds were killed by poison following missile strikes on rebel-held areas on August 21.

Kerry said he had spoken to Lavrov by telephone on Friday. They had agreed to continue cooperating, "moving not only towards the adoption of the OPCW rules and regulations, but also a resolution that is firm and strong within the United Nations", Kerry told reporters in Washington.

One Western diplomat warned on Friday that a failure by Assad to account for all the suspected stockpile would cause world powers to seek immediate action at the U.N. Security Council to force Damascus to comply.

If there were gaps in the documentation, the diplomat said, "this matter is going to go straight to the Security Council".

The United States and its allies said the U.N. inspectors' report this week left no doubt Assad's forces were responsible for the August 21 killings. Assad, however, has blamed the rebels and Moscow says the evidence of responsibility is unclear.

The Syrian government has accepted the plan and has already sought to join the OPCW. For Assad, the Russian proposal to remove chemical weapons provided an unexpected reprieve from the military action which President Barack Obama had planned after the August 21 attack. For Obama, it solved a dilemma posed when he found Congress unwilling to support war on Syria.

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.

However, Russia, which has as veto, remains opposed to attempts by Western powers to have the Security Council write in an explicit and immediate threat of penalties - under what are known as Chapter VII powers. It wants to discuss ways of forcing Syrian compliance only in the event Damascus fails to cooperate.

Obama has warned that he is still prepared to attack Syria, even without a U.N. mandate, if Assad reneges on the deal.

REBEL TROUBLES

Syria's rebels, who have been fighting to end four decades of Assad family rule since 2011, have voiced dismay at the U.S.-Russian pact and accuse their Western allies of being sidetracked by the chemical weapons issue while Assad's forces use a large conventional arsenal to try to crush the revolt.

That may see the official opposition look more to its Arab and Turkish supporters for help [ID:nL5N0HF1BW].

It may also hamper Western - and Russian - efforts to bring the warring parties together for a peace conference. Moscow and Washington have said progress on removing chemical weapons could pave the way for a broader diplomatic effort to end a conflict that has killed well over 100,000 and destabilized the region.

The increasing bitterness of the fighting, especially along sectarian lines, and also a fragmentation into rival camps, particularly on the rebel side, will also hamper negotiations.

On Friday, al Qaeda-linked fighters and a unit of Syrian rebels declared a truce after two days of clashes in the town of Azaz near the Turkish frontier that highlighted divisions in the opposition, in which hard line groups are powerful.

Assad's army, backed by Shi'ite regional power Iran and dominated by officers from Assad's Alawite religious minority, has mobilized militia and fighters from the Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah. Alawites are a Shi'ite offshoot.

Most rebels are from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority. But factions have split as foreign fighters driven by jihad have flocked to the country, often at odds with local Syrians. Ethnic Kurds in the north have fought both sides.

Fighters from an al Qaeda affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant had fought with the Northern Storm Brigade, a group that controls the border.

The Syrian National Coalition, a council of political exiles who work with the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), accused the jihadist group on Friday of "aggression towards Syrian revolutionary forces and its indifference to the lives of the Syrian people".

"ISIS no longer fights the Assad regime. Rather, it is strengthening its positions in liberated areas, at the expense of the safety of civilians.

"ISIS is inflicting on the people the same suppression of ... the Assad regime," it said in a statement, attacking the group for this week's fighting at Azaz.

While some tensions stem from contrasting ideological outlooks, most rebel-on-rebel fighting is more about control of territory and the spoils of war.

In other parts of Syria, al Qaeda-affiliated forces have enticed rebels to join them. Hundreds of rebels, including entire brigades, have pledged allegiance to ISIS and its domestic branch the Nusra Front in northern and eastern Syria, activists and Islamist sources said on Friday.

Washington says the chemical weapons deal has restarted talk of a second peace conference in Geneva. The first round of peace talks in June 2012 failed to end hostilities, but its supporters say it created the framework for an eventual settlement.

Last year's Geneva agreement aimed to create a transitional government with full executive powers agreed by both the Damascus administration and the Syrian National Coalition (SNC).

But the plan leaves out major players on the ground whose role has grown since. Pro-Assad militias, Kurdish militant groups, al Qaeda-linked rebels and other Islamist brigades that do not pledge allegiance to the FSA are not part of the deal.

"Let's be clear on this, Geneva 2 will not stabilize Syria," said Lebanon-based political scientist Hilal Khashan. "It will open a new chapter in the Syria conflict."

He said that even if the SNC and the government agreed on a transition government, jihadist groups will continue to fight and Kurdish militants will seek autonomy.

Khawla Mattar, spokeswoman for U.N. Syrian envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, said that the onus is on the SNC to be representative of Syrian society: "The Coalition ... have to bring the widest representation of Syrian society."

(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Sami Aboudi in Dubai, Erika Solomon in Beirut, Sara Webb in Amsterdam, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and David Stamp)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
Slammy wrote:
A rapid disarmament process??? It took the US about 10 years to destroy its stockpiles and the army said a large part of that time was making sure the incinerators worked and the weapons were handled properly. Even with this I think there was one reported accident in Anniston.
Syria is supposed to have one of the largest existing stockpiles on Earth. Does it sound safe to destroy that rapidly? Moreover, does it sounds possible to build the incinerators, burn and remove this material during a civil war?
What am I missing?

Sep 20, 2013 3:20pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Sinbad1 wrote:
@Slammy The US did not destroy its stockpiles of Sarin gas, citing technical difficulties. The US currently claims that it will have destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons by 2025. It is rather strange that The US cannot achieve in 40 years something that Syria is supposed to achieve in 12 months.

Sep 20, 2013 9:22pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SKYDRIFTER wrote:
What a God-awful mess!

With the U.S. being roughly 10 years in “material breach” of the international Chemical Weapons Convention deadline for the destruction of the U.S. CW stockpiles, how does anyone get particularly (rationally/morally) excited about Assad’s compliance, this early in the game? How and why did the “usual” thirty-days CW mandatory weapons inventory declaration time-frame get reduced to one week? What could be the “hurry?”

The lurking background U.S. military “big stick” is a proposed War Crime attack on Syria – currently rationalized via “suspicion,” alone. Surely, Hitler’s ghost is scratching his head, in disbelief.

In the meantime, the most recent media reports of infighting among the Syrian “rebel” groups is certifying the precise (warned) scenario which awaits Syria – and the rest of the world – should Assad’s government fall. Specifically, the threat of a host of militant Islamic terrorist groups seizing not just power in Syria, but a huge arsenal of weapons – potentially including chemical weapons.

By any reasonable expectation, Obama – and his entire complement of warhawks – should be praising and assisting Assad’s CW effort. Why is Assad, instead, constantly being time-restricted and warned of the consequences of his apparently desired failure to comply with the CWC? Clearly, a “secret agenda” is hiding in the shadows.

Assad is no one’s fool. He can’t be oblivious to the still lurking War Crime attack by the U.S. forces, in particular. In all likelihood, Assad is also busy placing civilians in harm’s way; betting on “Obama’s Fine Adventure” coming to pass. Faced with the “cowardly” convenience of overwhelming force, particularly “stand-off warfare,” Assad has no moral obligation to abide by any standard of military “fairness.”

There is also the distinct possibility that Assad is also locating at least some of his CW stockpile in the vicinity of probable U.S. targeted locations. Thus, Obama may be asking to inadvertently “gas” radically more civilians than Assad is accused of. It’s certain that the entire world has an unknown limit to the excuse of “unintended consequences;” above and beyond the usual “plausible assertions” of collateral damage.

Obama – and the USA – have the opportunity to totally back away from “Obama’s Fine Adventure;” with no loss of dignity. In concert, Obama can validly claim the “high ground;” that he faced a complex situation which evolved by the hour – requiring the highest standard of leadership – ultimately resulting in a peaceful resolution. For once in his Presidential “career;” Obama could actually win. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case – why?

Almost unbelievably, few are addressing the truly vital matter, amidst all the rah-rah calls for attacking Syria, alone; that matter being the guaranteed blow-back on the American public! At an absolute minimum, the U.S. public would suffer a militarized cyber-attack and serious Jihad attacks on U.S. soil. Syria has already successfully demonstrated the capability to conduct cyber-attacks on the U.S. public sector. One can only imagine the impact of a “militarized” cyber-attack. Such isn’t a case of: “Aw, we’ve seen this stuff before! No big deal.”

Hey, what if ….. -

Relative to the potential Jihadi attacks; is it purely “coincidence” that Obama, et al, are conveniently prepared with the “Spy Gate” capabilities – backed up by totalitarian (FEMA style) laws on the U.S. “books;” requiring only a Presidential signature to instantly activate those “laws?”

Absurd? How many American citizens are aware that Obama continues to extend the declared “State of Emergency,” dating to 9-11-2001?

Far too many “facts” of current American life have essentially rendered the descriptor “Conspiracy Theory” moot. Admittedly, there are plenty of “nut cases” spouting truly fictionalized and exaggerated versions of the factual potential “police state.”

The ‘government’ officially admitted the truth; but what is FEMA really planning to do with all that ammunition they got caught buying (among other ‘government’ agencies)?

To date, no one of prominence has questioned the “shelter-in-place” lock-down of the city of Boston, and surrounding towns, during the Boston Marathon bombing man-hunt. Add the recent (identically termed) “shelter-in-place” operation in the DC shooting. What was the “authority?” Who ordered the “shelter-in-place” operations? What was the “jurisdiction?” What law-enforcement and/or military agencies participated?

Recent undeniable history, alone, challenges the imaginations of drugged-out Hollywood script writers. Obama’s consistent disregard for the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Law and International Law presents a clear and present danger; worthy of extreme scrutiny. Worse, the U.S. Congress doesn’t seem to be the least bit concerned; presenting the obvious question: “Just how rabid is the U.S. dog?”

For the moment, Assad at least seems to have bought valuable time. However, the one variable which could still precipitate the feared nightmare of a regional war in the Middle-East being a far-too-possible false-flag “event;” being famous as a convenient precursor for so many U.S. military campaigns (wars). How much remaining time does Assad actually have on his side? Until a significant number of international “peace keeping” boots are on the ground in Syria; almost anything is possible.

With so many years of U.S. and Israeli War Crime attack threats against Iran, in particular, there is a potent question in plain view, as to whether or not anyone on the planet could blame Iran for developing nuclear weapons. That question now appears to be a waste of intellect.

How does it happen that John Kerry is independently making “time-compressed’ demands all over the world (threatening U.S. military action), when Obama has openly stated that there is currently no authority allowing the U.S. President to order an attack on Syria? Obama has fired generals for far less.

Here is the “rat” swimming in the current “peace” punch-bowl:

Whether “Syria” and/or “Iran;” the current (publicly presented) issues are the exclusive dominion of the UN! Israel’s paranoia doesn’t change that reality. For the foreseeable future, Iran, in particular, is a unique problem for Israel – not the USA. Syria is little different.

Even in terms of extreme political pragmatism (“Oh, just grow up; and deal with it!”); the U.S. doesn’t have any viable “stake” in this dangerous poker game. However, the reverse could easily become the instant reality; if “Obama’s Fine Adventure” is executed – regardless of the pretext, including a false-flag assertion.

Short-term or long-term; the USA has nothing to gain by attacking Syria – even to the tune of the purported “limited strike.” Just in terms of monetary expense, the U.S. will expend millions of tax-payer dollars in the associated military build-up, stand-by readiness and the eventual draw-down. To date, the estimated cost of just the proposed expenditure of cruise missiles is in the realm of 100 million dollars; IF the proposed attack is uniquely limited to Syria – with zero (extremely unlikely) retaliatory consequences.

Developing Iranian international political olive branches aside; Iran remains committed to respond if Syria is attacked. Accordingly, the potential U.S. military financial expense would instantly become staggering – independently of any battle damage or fatalities inflicted upon U.S. forces.

However preposterous it may seem, is it uniquely fate and/or coincidence that the U.S. budget is the imminent political focus within the Beltway?

As another U.S. “dollar expense,” the “Get Syria” gang is obviously looking to trigger an (expensive) immediate militarized cyber-attack on the American public; add any immediate or long-term financial damage due to Jihadi efforts on U.S. soil – successful or otherwise.

For the USA, attacking just Syria is exclusively a major lose-lose proposition, in terms of U.S. dollars, domestic and international politics; and blood-letting amid the U.S. military AND the American public!

The U.S. “war” forces remain on station in the Gulf and Mediterranean; in the face of the fact that Syria’s finest compliance with Kerry’s strictest demands would easily take a year. It’s absurd to think that the (expensive) maintenance of those U.S. military forces in ‘readiness’ constitutes any kind of purely political “statement;” versus constituting a purely (and expensive) military war-footing.

In the periphery, the world should question the “on-station” maintenance of the little known (seemingly “mysterious”) British air assets in the Mediterranean; not to exclude whatever air assets that France also has in readiness. As John Kerry so passionately and dramatically stated, “This is no game!” So, John Kerry, do tell – exactly, what is “this?” Given the stakes, the American public, at least, have the requisite “… need to know.”

One thing is certain; that being that the collective “war” assets in the region are primarily intended for Iran – they are an overkill with respect to a “limited strike” on Syria; or “insurance” against a local Syrian retaliation on U.S. military assets.

Yes, Iran may be 100% “…. up to tricks” in their current “talks” proposal on the nuclear issue – there are no mind-readers available. Currently, however, there is no shortage of indicators that Iran is responding to the effect of the UN sponsored economic sanctions – indicating that “peaceful solutions” are working. Yet, Iran, as with Syria, leaves whatever case Israel wants to make for an attack in the realm of 100% “suspicion;” however politically inconvenient to Israel and/or Obama – who, in particular, “mysteriously” shows no particular regard for the voice of the American public.

If Syria and Iran are factually mocking Israel and Obama; they are doing so in the best possible “style;” more worthy of admiration than censorship. For the near future, at least, Syria and Iran have Obama and Netanyahu brilliantly stale-mated.

Israel is increasingly proposing a factual War Crime attack on at least Iran; who can only be “suspected” of just the “intent” to develop a future nuclear arms potential. Paradoxically, again, the U.S. and Israeli threats against Iran have essentially delivered a nuclear weapons “self-defense mandate” to Iran.

No one doubts that Israel has a nuclear weapons stockpile. Israel is clearly hell-bent upon essentially destroying Iran, via a War Crime (“preemptive warfare”) attack; while essentially insisting that the U.S. “…. go first.” Insanely – from the viewpoint of at least the American public – Obama still seems to be prepared to do just that! Why?

Since the entry of America into W.W. II, morally, politically or militarily; Israel is indebted to the USA – not the converse. While Israel is commonly – and amazingly successfully – touted as a “great ally” to the USA, there is an overwhelming void of history to support that notion. Israel is, however, a great ally to a host of profiteering U.S. corporations – by way of the U.S. tax-payers’ pocketbook. Obviously, Israel has a lot of company in that particular game.

Whatever rationalization is presented; in the style of Archie Bunker: “America doesn’t need no stinkin’ attack on Syria!”

It’s worth noting that whether by accident or by design, Obama is holding himself far more accountable to the elements of the “New World Order” – versus the American public – having postured his personal political image by first proposing the attack on Syria; then dropping back to admit that he doesn’t have the personal legal prerogative of ordering the attack on “Syria;” but only after (effective) public outcry to Congress. Yet, he clearly hasn’t given up; why?

In seeming “indecision,” amidst the outcry of the American public, Obama quickly referred the “Syria” matter to Congress – probably in far more political and legal wisdom, than indecision. Obama also claims that the “peaceful negotiations” plan was originally his – before Kerry “mis-spoke.” (But, strangely, Putin didn’t seize upon Obama’s acclaimed “plan,” versus Kerry’s capricious remarks. What are the “odds?”)

So why, once again, is the U.S. military (at least) is still poised to attack Syria, at the very minimum – with all but the Syrian attack promise(s), and a timetable, publicly lurking in the current scenario – “peace talks” be damned.

What ace should Assad fear that Obama has up his sleeve? Or, is it a Derringer?

The consensus of the entire world, the American public; and even the polled members of the U.S. Armed Forces, are against the U.S. attacking Syria. However, Obama, et al, attempt to cleverly persist; while also persisting in their failure to address the blow-back effect upon the American public; instead, dismissing any such possibilities – nay, guarantees!

From the viewpoint of at least the American public, Assad should be given whatever reasonable accommodations which he needs to dispose of his chemical weapons. Comparably, Assad is also successfully battling the militant Islamic extremists – whom Obama won’t engage; versus far too often directly or indirectly supporting those extremists via action or inaction, as the case may be.

Before, during and after “Benghazi,” the Obama administration refused to either assist the American diplomats – or “retaliate” with a 100% justifiable strike on the known local al Qaeda camps instantly available to him. Additionally, a retaliatory strike on al Qaeda would have served as an election year coup, in concert with the purported killing of Osama bin Laden. Instead, Obama constructively protected al Qaeda with a storm of deceit, foisted on the American public. Now this; why?

Currently, Assad – and Russia – are far greater “friends” of the American public, than Obama & Associates. Is that a “…twist of fate;” or the epitome of “Irony?”

Relative to all reasonable expectations which the American public has of Obama, et al; it’s totally disgusting!

By all apparent information, amidst the blowing dust and tumbleweeds at the O-K (Obama-Kerry) Corral, the sun is approaching meridian height. “America” can only lose, once the first shot is fired. Clearly, there is a plan afoot; still subject to fate, as always. But, for at least the moment, who are the intended winners?

As the Sun creeps toward meridian height, the American public should be certain that revenge will follow any treachery. When the Sun settles, the wind dies and the dust settles, will any significant portion of the once-proud “America” be allowed – or be able – to survive; and for how long?

Already, even without a war, Americans should fear the question from their grandchildren: “Gramps, what was the Constitution?”

Sep 21, 2013 5:32am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.