Syria chemical weapons inspections ‘to start next week’
International inspectors will get to work destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal by next week, once a document drawn up to avert military strikes is agreed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Friday.
The OPCW’s 41-member Executive Council will meet in The Hague later on Friday to discuss the draft which lays out what US Secretary of State John Kerry has called the “rules and regulations” of Syrian chemical disarmament, which Damascus has signed up to.
Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons as part of a US-Russian agreement made earlier this month, worked out as Washington threatened military action in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus it blamed on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Besides weapons locations declared by Damascus as part of the Russia-US deal, inspectors will also be able to visit “any other site identified by a State Party as having been involved in the Syrian chemical weapons programme,” says the draft document seen by reporters.
It says however that such matters could be resolved through “consultations and co-operation” and that the OPCW’s Director General Ahmet Uzumcu can deem claims of hidden chemical weapons “unwarranted”.
In cases of non-compliance with the plan, which sees all Syrian chemical weapons and facilities destroyed by mid-next year, the OPCW will discuss the allegation and “bring the issue or matter ... directly to the attention of the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council.”
Syria is required to supply further details on its chemical weapons stockpile within seven days of the OPCW draft being adopted, it says.
Setting ‘destruction milestones’
All Syrian chemical weapons facilities must be inspected no later than 30 days after the document is adopted.
The OPCW’s Executive Council is to decide on “intermediate destruction milestones” by November 15, it says, calling also on Syria to provide “immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites.”
The OPCW shall “as soon as possible and in any case not later than October 1 (Tuesday) initiate inspections in the Syrian Arab Republic pursuant to this decision.”
Syria is also required to designate a liaison official for the OPCW and “provide him or her with the authority necessary to ensure that this decision is fully implemented.”
Friday’s OPCW meeting comes after the United States and Russia agreed a draft UN Security Council resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons on Thursday, breaking a prolonged deadlock.
The 15-member Security Council is to vote on the resolution on Friday, after the OPCW meeting.
The UN text says the Security Council “decides in event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorised transfer of chemical weapons or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.”
It says the council can consider measures if the OPCW or UN leader Ban Ki-moon report a breach of the Russia-US disarmament plan.
Chapter VII can allow sanctions or military force. But there would have to be a new vote and diplomats predicted tough talks to persuade Russia not to use its veto again.
Damascus has signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the OPCW enforces, and Syria will officially join the body on October 14.
Syria is likely to send an observer to the OPCW’s Executive Council meeting.
According to the framework agreed by Washington and Moscow, OPCW weapons inspectors are to complete inspections of Syrian weapons sites and destruction of production and mixing/filling equipment by November.
Syria is reported to have around 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, including 300 metric tons of sulphur mustard.
A confidential US and Russian assessment of Syria’s stockpile said its chemical agents are largely “unweaponised” and could be eradicated more quickly than initially thought, the Washington Post reported.
The report said American and Russian officials now believe Syria’s entire arsenal could be dismantled within the nine-month timeframe laid out in the OPCW document.