Syria Destroys Chemical Plants Within Deadline: Monitors

Syria has met a deadline for the destruction of chemical weapons production facilities, according to international monitors, in the biggest step so far under a United Nations disarmament plan.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime must now submit and have approved by Nov. 15 a detailed plan to eliminate its stockpiles, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in an e-mailed statement today. The organization is satisfied that it has verified and seen destroyed all of Syria’s declared “critical” production plants, it said.

Syria agreed to give up its chemical arsenal under a Russian initiative endorsed by the United Nations Security Council last month. The deal led the U.S. to withdraw threats of military action to punish Assad’s government for its alleged use of sarin gas near Damascus in August. Syrian opposition groups, who have been fighting to unseat Assad for 2 1/2 years, say the attack killed more than 1,400 people.

The plan aims to remove all chemical weapons and related equipment by the end of June. The OPCW deployed teams in Syria to ensure that all production sites and equipment were unusable by Nov. 1.

‘Immediate Capabilities’

That initial step still leaves Syria with “its entire remaining stockpile of functioning chemical weapons,” and has “little to no impact on their immediate capabilities,” David Reeths, director at IHS Jane’s Consulting, said today in response to e-mailed questions.

While the speed of the inspectors work is remarkable, they are only certifying destruction “of Syrian self-declared equipment from self-declared sites,” Reeths said.

The OPCW says its inspectors visited 21 of 23 declared sites. The others weren’t visited due to security concerns. Syria said those facilities had already been abandoned and any relevant material was removed to other sites which were inspected.

The U.S. this week received a classified copy of Syria’s 700-page inventory document, and will examine whether Assad’s government may be concealing information from the OPCW, Thomas Countryman, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said today in Washington.

Countryman said the removal of large quantities of chemicals, mostly not weaponized, by the June deadline will present “big logistical problems.”

Beyond the perils of moving the chemicals though a war zone, no country has publicly agreed to take the materials for destruction. Norway last week said it turned down a U.S. request because it lacked the capability to handle the chemical waste.

The OPCW’s head, Ahmet Uzumcu, today described the Syria mission as “the most challenging mission ever undertaken” by the group.