Tags: US | Syria | Assad

Obama Administration Backs 'Compromise' on Assad's Chemical Weapons

By Joel Himelfarb   |   Monday, 21 Jul 2014 11:43 PM

Syrian President Bashar Assad retains at least a dozen chemical weapons facilities he was supposed to have destroyed by the end of June, according to the Obama administration, which announced last week that the Syrian regime would have to destroy only seven of them for now.

Robert Mikulak, the top State Department diplomat at the international Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, said last week that the administration backs a “compromise” solution that included further talks over how the destruction of the other five sites would occur and how it would be verified. 

Mikulak, admitted that the proposal “is not entirely in keeping with the extraordinary” demands in September that Syria destroy its entire chemical weapons stockpile. But Washington “is prepared to support that compromise solution … as long as Syria also accepts it,” Mikulak said at an organization meeting.

“Syria cannot be allowed to stall every attempt at resolution and continue to defy its obligations and this council by indefinitely keeping its former CW production facilities,” he added, warning that “there must be consequences” if Damascus continues to delay, although the administration has not specified what they would be.

Mikulak’s tone was markedly different from that almost celebratory one taken by the Obama Administration last month, when The Washington Post reported that Liz Sherwood-Randall, the White House aide overseeing the Syrian missile issue,  joined Dutch diplomat Sigrid Kaag – a senior international official charged with eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile –  in touting the Syria deal as an important diplomatic success.

The pair agreed to celebrate with a glass of champagne the next time they met, with Sherwood-Randall calling the outcome “one we can be proud of.” She made that boast in spite of Kaag’s admission that that international inspectors were unable to reach suspect sites and “had to trust the Syrians” to perform the cleanup properly.

In the interview, Kaag praised Iran for being “helpful” in persuading Syria to cooperate with weapons inspectors.

It is unclear how militarily significant the cuts in Syria’s chemical arsenal will actually be.

The August 21, 2013 attack cited by the Obama Administration in threatening military action against the Assad regime killed 1,429 people. By way of comparison, upwards of 160,000 people  have been killed in more than three years of fighting in Syria. Out of that total, well over 40,000 were civilians killed since the Syria chemical weapons deal was reached last year.

In the end, Assad’s compliance may resemble that of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, whose December 2003 pledge to relinquish his chemical weapons arsenal had been touted as a nonproliferation success story for more than a decade. In June 2004, Libya acceded to the international Chemical Weapons Convention and destroyed what it said was its entire stockpile. But as former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has observed, Libya turns out to have been a less complete nonproliferation success than was first thought.

After the Gadhafi regime fell in 2011, Libyan authorities found undeclared chemical weapons caches hidden by the former regime. While they constituted less than 10 percent of Libya’s previously declared stockpile, the caches turned out to be the only Libyan chemical weapons that were actually ready for use. They had been loaded into 45 plastic sleeves for rocket launchings and into more than 500 artillery shells.
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