The Syrian government met its deadline to file full details of its plan to eliminate chemical weapons as part of an international deal. The declaration was filed with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague. According to OPCW, Syria is on track to dispose of its entire stockpile by mid-2014. Proponents of the plan, including the Obama Administration, applauded the move as the first step toward ending the humanitarian crisis in the war-stricken country. Critics argue that Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, is using his cooperation to buy time for his embattled regime.
“The functional destruction of the declared capacity of the Syrian Arab Republic is expected to be completed as planned by November 1,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in report, according to Al Jazeera. “The job is far from complete and much important work remains to be done.”
OPCW inspectors went into Syria following the U.S. and Russian brokered deal to turn over its arsenal in September. Since arriving in the country, they have visited 21 of the 23 facilities Syria used to produce poison gas. The remaining facilities are located in contested regions caught up in heavy fighting between the Syrian army and rebel forces. Reaching the remaining facilities that need inspection could be difficult without a cease-fire agreement.
Yet to be determined is exactly how the international community will destroy Syria’s estimated 1,000 metric tons of illegal weapons.
“Some experts have suggested that certain agents may have to be moved outside of the country to be eliminated,” reports The Los Angeles Times. “The fighting in Syria could complicate efforts to do away with the toxins in Syria. But moving the material along Syria’s often-perilous roads could also be a risk. And finding countries willing to accept toxic substances will pose a challenge.”
Norway turned down a request from the U.S. to destroy Syria’s stockpile of sarin nerve gas and mustard gas. Norwegian officials cited the short timeframe, logistical issues and local laws to support its decision. The U.S. had been counting on Norway’s help. The plan, backed by the U.N. Security Council, calls for the weapons to be transported out of Syria by the end of January 2014 and destroyed by June 2014, reports Christian Science Monitor.
The move to reveal the existence of the chemical weapons program is a major shift in Syrian policy, which denied their existence for years. Experts speculate that the weapons were initially developed as a deterrent to neighboring Israel. The program came to light when Assad’s forces used sarin nerve agent against rebels fighting in the suburbs of Damascus. Hundreds were killed in that attack, leading to pressure from the global community for Syria to disarm. The U.S. proposed a military intervention after Assad crossed President Obama’s “red line,” but stopped short when Russia announced it was willing to furnish a diplomatic solution.
Assad’s critics see his cooperation on chemical weapons as a political stunt designed to keep his regime in power and prevent outside intervention in Syria’s civil war.
“This is a public relations stunt for President Bashar al-Assad,” Murhaf Jouejati of the National Defense University told NPR. “By complying, and on time, he wants to look good in front of the international community. That buys him a lifeline.”
Stretching into its third year, the Syrian civil war has killed over 100,000 people and displaced over two million people. Fighting broke out along sectarian lines following uprisings in 2011 and the country has since become a magnet for foreign fighters from as far away as Afghanistan.
Still, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the progress Syria had made toward destroying all of its chemical weapons. Writing for Foreign Policy, Kerry expressed hope that this agreement could pave the way for more humanitarian aid to reach civilians. The war has led to widespread malnutrition and disease among the population. According to the World Health Organization, cases of polio are now being reported in Syria, as well.
“Simply put, the world must act quickly and decisively to get life-saving assistance to the innocent civilians who are bearing the brunt of the civil war,” said Kerry. “To do anything less risks a ‘lost generation’ of Syrian children traumatized, orphaned and starved by this barbaric war.”
By Jonny Eberle – Grey Cell Staff Writer