March 1, 2012 / 6:50 PM / in 6 years

U.N. concerned Syria may have chemical weapons

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are concerned at the possibility that Syria may have chemical weapons, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday.

“On Syria, the Secretary-General and the Director-General noted with concern the reports on the possible existence of chemical weapons in the country,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters. “Those concerns are entirely understandable.”

The top U.S. military officer, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that Syria is “very capable,” with a sophisticated, integrated air defense system and chemical and biological weapons.

Syrian security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians during an 11-month crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, according to the United Nations, and the outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing. Russia and China have twice used their vetoes to block action by the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, the State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East, told a Senate panel on Thursday that Washington was also concerned about Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.

“This is a topic that’s being discussed actively with Syria’s neighbors and with our allies in Europe and elsewhere,” Feltman said, noting that Syria was not a signatory to the international Convention on Chemical Weapons.

“We don’t have any indication at this point that these stockpiles have fallen out of the control of the Syrian government, but it’s one of the reasons why a managed transition is so important,” Feltman said. “We’re watching this. We’re watching it carefully.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons monitors compliance with the anti-chemical weapons convention, which Syria has not signed.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Andrew Quinn in Washington; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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