Chemical arms inspectors say Syria has destroyed all declared sites
Elimination of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ability to manufacture chemical weapons is the most significant milestone yet in the U.S.-Russian accord.
The New York Times
BEIRUT — Syria’s ability to produce chemical weapons has been destroyed and its remaining toxic armaments secured, weapons inspectors said Thursday, as President Bashar Assad has offered unexpectedly robust cooperation, so far, with a Russian-U.S. accord to dismantle his arsenal.
Elimination of Assad’s manufacturing ability is the most significant milestone yet in a process that still faces a monumental task: destroying the government’s 1,290 tons of declared chemical weapons amid a bloody civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.
Weapons inspectors who have been in the country one month say that despite battles raging across the country, international disagreement over how to stop the war and what U.S. officials say was an Israeli strike on a Syrian army base late Wednesday, Syria has met all of its commitments and deadlines.
By doing so, Assad’s government can claim success in what it said would be a key benefit of the accord: seizing a new measure of credibility and portraying itself not as an outlaw regime but as a reliable and legitimate international player.
Opponents of Assad, including the rebels, are critical of the deal for that very reason: It has helped buttress his position but done nothing to stop the war.
Assad’s opponents have denounced the accord as a distraction, and they were dismayed that the chemical-weapons attack in August that U.S. officials say killed 1,400 men, women and children near Damascus led not to U.S. military intervention, as President Obama initially threatened, but to an agreement that allows Assad’s supporters to portray him as a statesman.
The deal also created a de facto expectation that Assad would remain in office at least until mid-2014, when the elimination of the weapons is supposed to be complete under the agreement, critics say. Syrians — supporters and opponents of the government alike — widely considered chemical weapons a side issue that global leaders were focusing on instead of finding ways to end the war.
The government’s international opponents emphasized Thursday that the deal was incomplete and that they hold Assad accountable for the suffering of Syrians. The British Foreign Office said in a statement that while the destruction of chemical facilities was “an important first milestone, it brings no relief to the Syrian people,” since the government continues to use artillery, air power and “siege tactics” against civilians.
In a statement Thursday, the international chemical-weapons watchdog group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said Syria had disabled all of the chemical-weapons production and mixing facilities it declared to inspectors, rendering them inoperable, ahead of the deadline Friday.
The organization said its inspectors and U.N. officials had visited 39 of the 41 facilities at 21 of the 23 sites that Syria had declared. While the two remaining sites — where chemical weapons are developed, stored and tested — were too hazardous to visit because of fighting, chemical-making equipment had been moved to other sites that the inspectors could visit, the statement said.
“The joint mission is now satisfied that it has verified — and seen destroyed — all of Syria’s declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment,” the weapons organization’s statement said.