Syria is stalling over in­spec­tion of chem­i­cal weapons stock­piles

The National - News - - NEWS - ARTHUR MacMIL­LAN

Syria came un­der pres­sure over its years of fail­ure to give a full ac­count to in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors of its chem­i­cal weapons stocks.

In a pri­vate meet­ing at the United Na­tions in New York on Tues­day, the head of the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons told diplo­mats that Pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad’s regime was re­fus­ing to fully co-op­er­ate. Separately, diplo­mats told

The Na­tional that OPCW of­fi­cials had not been granted visas to visit Syria. The is­sue is press­ing as in­ter­na­tional con­cern re­mains high that the As­sad regime could use toxic chem­i­cals against civil­ians in its mil­i­tary cam­paign to re­take all sov­er­eign ter­ri­tory.

Fer­nando Arias, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the OPCW, and Ms Izumi Nakamitsu, Un­der­sec­re­tary Gen­eral and High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Dis­ar­ma­ment Af­fairs, briefed the coun­cil.

Mr Arias said af­ter­wards that the block­ing of in­spec­tors meant it can­not yet be ver­i­fied that Syria has fully de­clared its chem­i­cal weapons stock­piles.

“It re­mains the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Syria to fully com­ply with its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions,” he said, and that world pow­ers must re­main com­mit­ted to in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­le­ga­tions of the use of toxic chem­i­cals as weapons since 2013, when Syria joined the Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion.

Mr Arias said OPCW in­ves­ti­ga­tors in charge of iden­ti­fy­ing per­pe­tra­tors of chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks in Syria would pro­duce their first re­port “in the next few months”.

The OPCW voted to ap­por­tion blame for chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks last year af­ter Rus­sia used its veto in the coun­cil to ter­mi­nate a joint UN-OPCW in­ves­tiga­tive unit set up in 2015 to de­ter­mine re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Re­gard­ing the al­leged use of toxic chem­i­cals as a weapon in Douma, Syria, on April 7, last year, the OPCW’s fact-find­ing mis­sion in­cluded on-site vis­its to col­lect en­vi­ron­men­tal sam­ples, con­duct wit­ness in­ter­views and gather data. In­ves­ti­ga­tors fur­ther an­a­lysed wit­ness tes­ti­monies, en­vi­ron­men­tal and biomed­i­cal sam­ples anal­y­sis, tox­i­co­log­i­cal and bal­lis­tic analy­ses and dig­i­tal in­for­ma­tion gath­ered from witnesses.

The ma­te­rial gath­ered pro­vided “rea­son­able grounds that the use of a toxic chem­i­cal as a weapon” had taken place, the OPCW said in March this year. The toxic chem­i­cal con­tained re­ac­tive chlo­rine, a sub­stance that the regime has re­peat­edly been ac­cused of drop­ping on civil­ians.

A diplo­mat present at Tues­day’s meet­ing told The Na­tional that the As­sad regime was con­tin­u­ing to evade scru­tiny over chem­i­cal weapons use. “They have not given the nec­es­sary visas,” he said.

The OPCW was cre­ated to im­ple­ment a 1997 treaty that banned chem­i­cal weapons, but had lacked a man­date to name the par­ties it found re­spon­si­ble for us­ing them.

Bri­tain led the suc­cess­ful cam­paign in June last year to give the 193-na­tion chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog new teeth, de­spite Rus­sian ob­jec­tions.

Karen Pierce, the UK’s Am­bas­sador and Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the UN, said: “It has been at least six years since we had an ad­e­quate dec­la­ra­tion or dis­clo­sure from Syria on their chem­i­cal weapons stocks.”


Weapons in­spec­tors in Da­m­as­cus in April last year

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