Syria hands over details of chemical weapons to The Hague

UN core members to vote next week on plan to fast-track destruction of weapon stockpiles

Syria has submitted details of its chemical weapons to Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, the organisation said today.

Syria is believed to possess around 1,000 tonnes of chemical toxins, and has agreed to destroy them under a joint Russian-US proposal designed to avert a US strike on Syria.

“We have received part of the verification and we expect more,” an OPCW spokesman said.

A UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the details had been submitted, saying: “It’s quite long ... and being translated.”


The organisation’s core members are due to vote - probably next week - on a plan aimed at fast-tracking the destruction of Syria’s chemical stockpiles by mid-2014.

The resolution is intended to require Syria to comply with the US-Russia accord reached in Geneva on September 14th, which set a timetable for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to declare, secure and then eliminate his entire arsenal of the nerve agent sarin and other chemical weapons.

The effort encountered headwinds from Russia and China as the five veto-wielding permanent council members met for two days this week to discuss a draft resolution put forward by France, the US, and the UK.

Among the contentious issues are whether the measure will allude to a threat of force and whether it will blame Dr Assad’s regime for an August 21st chemical weapons attack near Damascus that the US says killed 1,400 people, including more than 400 children.

The timetable already has begun slipping. The three Western allies were hoping that the OPCW would approve the Geneva framework by today, a UN diplomat, who asked not to be identified to discuss the deliberations, said on Wednesday. That would have provided time for the resolution to be adopted by the Security Council on Sunday. Instead, the executive council scheduled its own meeting for Sunday.

US impatience

US secretary of state John Kerry expressed impatience yesterday about the continued suggestion by Russian leaders that rebels are responsible for poison-gas attacks in Syria.

"We really don't have time today to pretend that anyone can have their own set of facts," he said. Without naming names, Mr Kerry rebutted comments by Russian president Vladimir Putin and his diplomats who have sided with Dr Assad in disputing what the US says is clear evidence in a UN inspectors' report implicating government forces in the August 21st attack.

The US draws its conclusion from the quantities of sarin, the type of munitions used and the rockets’ trajectories. The facts in Syria “only grew clearer, and the case only grew more compelling” with the UN report “despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise,” Mr Kerry said.

‘Next Week’

The security council “must be prepared to act next week” on a measure that embodies the “strongest possible mechanism” to ensure Dr Assad’s compliance, Mr Kerry said.

Any security council action next week will be influenced by whether Dr Assad meets his first compliance test under the Geneva accord. By tomorrow, Syria is supposed to provide full disclosure of its chemical weapons and where they’re stored so that starting next month inspectors can verify the information and secure the sites until the material can be destroyed.

Mr Putin said yesterday that he isn’t “100 per cent” certain that Dr Assad will fulfill his commitment to give up his chemical weapons.

Allies differ

Russia has had close ties with Syria since Dr Assad's father Hafez al-Assad took power in a coup in 1970. Russia has been a major arms provider to the regime and maintains its only military base outside the former Soviet Union at Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartus.

While the three Western powers drafting the UN document aren’t seeking to threaten an immediate use of force, the resolution must include consequences to ensure that Dr Assad’s actions to eliminate his chemical arsenal by mid-2014 are enforceable, verifiable and binding, said the UN diplomat.

Differences among the three allies pose another hurdle to the speedy adoption of the resolution. France, the UK and the US have yet to agree on a firm timeline for the Security Council to act, only on the need to do so as soon as possible after the chemical weapons organization’s decision in The Hague, according to a second UN diplomat who also asked not to be identified discussing the deliberations.

After action by the 41-member Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, a Security Council resolution will be needed to override some provisions of the international Chemical Weapons Convention to allow an effort to find, transport and dismantle chemical arms in the middle of a civil war, the first UN diplomat said.

Dr Assad’s government is ready to call for a ceasefire at proposed peace talks in Geneva, according to a report in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, which cited an interview with the nation’s deputy prime minister Qadri Jamil.

The daily quoted Mr Jamil as saying neither side to the conflict was capable of "defeating the other." Mr Jamil's Popular Will Party said later his comments were taken out of context, according to the state- run Sana news agency.

Opposition leaders have insisted that Dr Assad must quit as part of any political settlement process.