Tags: Syria | Syria | chemical | destroyed | UN

Syrian Chemical Arsenal Can be Destroyed in Nine Months

By    |   Friday, 27 September 2013 11:23 AM

Syria's chemical arsenal consists mostly of "unweaponized" liquids, not ready-made weapons that can be easily hidden or stolen by terrorists, U.S. and Russian investigators believe.

In addition, assessments by both governments conclude that all of Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical arsenal can be destroyed in about nine months if he turns over control of his entire stockpile, which is believed to be one of the world's largest, The Washington Post reports.

The White House declined to comment on the assessments, which are being kept quiet while negotiations continue at the United Nations over dismantling the Syrian stockpile.
But the Post reported that the determination about Syria's chemical capabilities was based on a consensus view from Russian and U.S. intelligence analysts and backed up by the Syrian government's own reports listing chemical agents and delivery systems.

The Syrian inventory, presented at the U.N. Sept. 21, has not been released to the public.
On Thursday, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council agreed on the wording of a "binding and enforceable" agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, The Guardian reports. But the agreement stopped short of authorizing the use of force against the Assad regime if it does not comply.

The White House declined to comment, but two people who attended a briefing on the weapons by administration officials said analysts had determined that Syria has more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, including 300 metric tons of sulfur mustard, which was used in World War I. The rest, they told the Post, consists of chemical precursors in liquid bulk form.

The deadly nerve agent sarin — of which traces were found in victims of the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Damascus that killed an estimated 1,400 people — is made when two chemical precursors are blended using special equipment. The toxins are put in shells, rockets, or bombs.

Michael Kuhlman, chief scientist of the national security division at Battelle, which supervised the destruction of U.S. Cold War-era chemical weapons, told the Post it will be easier to destroy precursors than shells or warheads already loaded with agents.

"If the vast majority of it consists of precursors in bulk form. That is very good news," Kuhlman said. "Now you’re dealing with tanks of chemicals that are corrosive and dangerous, but not nerve agents. And the destruction processes for those chemicals are well in hand."

If U.N. inspection teams can remove just one of the sarin precursors or the equipment used to mix the ingredients, then Syria's ability to launch a chemical attack before its stockpile is destroyed will be virtually shut down, according to Daryl Kimball, director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

"The mixing equipment itself is essential to using chemical agents," Kimball said. "If you prioritize the destruction of the equipment, you can largely deny Syria the ability to use these weapons again on Syrian soil."

Despite the progress in moving toward shutting down Syria's chemical capability, Russia and the United States still differ over how to go about it, just as they did over whether Assad or rebels fighting to overthrow him were responsible for the August attack on innocent civilians.


The Obama administration wants all chemical weapons removed from Syria before Assad can change his mind about cooperating, but Russia is insisting on destroying the weapons while still in country.

However, both countries say they believe that in the end, Assad will cooperate because the chemical weapons have become a liability for his regime and because he may not want to risk angering his Russian ally, President Vladimir Putin, who brokered the agreement with the U.S. by promising that the weapons would be destroyed.

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Syria's chemical arsenal consists mostly of "unweaponized" liquids, not ready-made weapons that can be easily hidden or stolen by terrorists, U.S. and Russian investigators believe.
Friday, 27 September 2013 11:23 AM
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