‘Progress’ made on Syria chemical arsenal

Chemical weapons experts say ‘encouraging initial progress’ made towards elimination of chemical weapons arsenal

UN vehicles transporting a team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are pictured as they return to their hotel in Damascus today. Photograph: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters

UN vehicles transporting a team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are pictured as they return to their hotel in Damascus today. Photograph: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters

Thu, Oct 3, 2013, 19:48

A team of chemical weapons experts has made “encouraging initial progress” as it works towards the elimination of Syria’s poison gas arsenal, the United Nations said today.

“Documents handed over yesterday by the Syrian government look promising, according to team members, but further analysis, particularly of technical diagrams, will be necessary and some more questions remain to be answered,” a UN statement said.

The international team consists of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague and United Nations personnel assisting them in their work. Last week, the UN Security Council unanimously demanded the elimination of Syria’s chemical arsenal.

“The team hopes to begin onsite inspections and the initial disabling of equipment within the next week, but this depends on the outcome of the technical groups established with the participation of Syrian experts yesterday,” the statement said.

The UN statement said the technical groups will focus on three tasks: verification of the information handed over by the Syrian government, the safety and security of the inspection teams, and practical arrangements for implementing the work plan.

Agreement on the plan to wipe out Syria’s chemical weapons was reached after President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve air strikes to punish Syria’s government over an Aug. 21 gas attack the United States says killed more than 1,400 people.

There was also optimism in Washington today about the plan’s prospects, with some US senators saying they felt encouraged after senior Obama administration officials spent three hours briefing them on the situation in Syria.

“On the chemical side, at least on the part of the witnesses, there’s some optimism that (the plan) will work,” senator Carl Levin, a Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters.

The chemical weapons plan and last week’s security council resolution were based on a deal reached last month in Geneva by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US secretary of state John Kerry.

The rebels and Syrian government blame each other for the August 21st incident. The United States and other Western countries say a report by UN investigators indirectly implicates government-allied forces for the attack on a Damascus suburb.

The United Nations has been notified of at least 14 chemical attacks since the 2 1/2-year civil war began. It estimates more than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

Russia, a staunch ally and arms supplier of Dr Assad, also blames the rebels for the Aug. 21 attack.

Reuters