THE HAGUE/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria gave details of some of its chemical weapons to a UN-backed arms watchdog at The Hague yesterday but needs to fill in gaps by next week to launch a rapid disarmament operation that may avert US air strikes.
At the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the agency which is to oversee the removal of President Bashar al-Assad’s arsenal, a spokeswoman said: “We have received part of the verification and we expect more.”
She did not say what was missing from a document one UN diplomat described as “quite long”. The OPCW’S 41-member Executive Council is due to meet early next week to review Syria’s inventory and to agree on implementing last week’s US-Russian deal to eliminate the entire arsenal in nine months.
The timetable was laid down by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov a week ago in Geneva when they set aside sharp differences over Syria to agree on a plan to deprive Assad of chemical weapons and so remove the immediate threat from Washington of launching military action.
That plan set a rough deadline of today for Syria to give a full account of the weapons it possesses. Security experts say it has about 1,000 tonnes of mustard gas, VX and sarin – the nerve agent UN inspectors found after hundreds were killed by poison following missile strikes on rebel-held areas on August 21.
Kerry said he had spoken to Lavrov by telephone yesterday and agreed to continue cooperating, “moving not only towards the adoption of the OPCW rules and regulations, but also a resolution that is firm and strong within the United Nations”.
One Western diplomat warned that a failure by Assad to account for all the suspected stockpile would cause world powers to seek action at the UN Security Council to force him to.