(Adds background, comments from Kaag, French ambassador)
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, June 4 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, diplomats
said on Wednesday.
The envoys were citing remarks by Sigrid Kaag, head of the
joint mission to Syria of the United Nations and the
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, who was
briefing the 15-member U.N. Security Council.
"The (U.N.-OPCW) team has been in Damascus seeking
clarification on discrepancies in the original declaration," a
diplomat present at the closed-door meeting told Reuters on
condition of anonymity.
Speaking to reporters after the council meeting, Kaag spoke
of ongoing efforts to overcome the declaration's "deficiencies
that have been identified, in collaboration with the
authorities." She did not elaborate.
The Western diplomat who attended the meeting said some of
the discrepancies went beyond routine errors, noting that there
were omissions from Syria's declaration.
Last month, U.N. 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 and the mission would continue
working for a "finite period of time." He also voiced concern
about recent chlorine gas attacks in Syria.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said on his Twitter feed
that Kaag's mission "will need to continue its activities beyond
this date (June 30)." He also noted that the recent alleged
chlorine gas attacks, which France has blamed on the government,
were a violation of international law.
Assad, embroiled in the fourth year of a civil war with
rebels fighting to oust him, agreed last year to hand over the
country's entire chemical weapons stockpile and ensure its total
destruction by June 30.
But Kaag made clear that the destruction of the weapons
would not be completed this month, noting there was still work
to be done on destroying facilities linked to Syria's chemical
After hundreds of people were killed in an August 2013 sarin
nerve gas attack near Damascus, a September agreement with
Russia and the United States averted U.S. military strikes in
response to the worst chemical weapons attack in decades, which
Washington and its European allies blamed on Assad.
His government, which denies the allegation and blames the
rebels for all chemical attacks in Syria, still has roughly 7
percent of 1,300 metric tonnes of chemical weapons it declared
to the OPCW, enough highly toxic material to carry out a
Assad's government has indicated it wants the U.N.-OPCW
mission shut down as soon as all chemicals are shipped out of
But Western officials want the mission to continue to
investigate numerous ambiguities in Syria's chemical weapons
declaration, which have become increasingly glaring during the
course of the mission's work.
The officials have cited U.S., 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.
(Editing by G Crosse and Bernadette Baum)