Cautious officials note initial progress on Syrian chemical weapons

Posted by Matthew Schofield on October 4, 2013 

Mideast Syria

This image provided by Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show dead bodies after an attack on Ghouta, Syria on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.

UNCREDITED — AP

— The international team tasked with the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons “has made encouraging initial progress,” according to a statement from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The release states that with this initial progress, the hope is that they will soon be able to begin destroying and disabling the equipment that makes waging chemical war possible. The equipment includes everything from production of the chemicals, to those that mix the chemicals to the machines that are used to fill the weapons used to deliver the deadly sarin, VX and mustard gas believed to be in the Syrian arsenal.

The statement notes that the team is still in the meeting phase of their mission to Syria. But after the first full day of working negotiations, team members reported: “Documents handed over yesterday by the Syrian Government look promising.”

The team is reported to have said the documents, especially technical diagrams, in question require further study. They noted that there is still much to be done, but there is reason for cautious optimism.

“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,” the statement said.

It went on to note three keys to mission success: “verification of the information handed over by the Syrian Government; the safety and security of the inspection teams; and practical arrangements for implementing the plan, under which Syria’s chemical weapons material and equipment are to be eliminated by mid-2014.”

The 19 OPCW inspectors and 14 UN staffers arrived in Syria on Tuesday. Experts have said that if Syria provides access to its arsenal and war machinery, they would expect rapid progress in eliminating or at least vastly reducing the ability of the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad to use chemical weapons. The OPCW deadline for destroying that machinery is November 1, which experts say is very realistic. 

The machinery can be destroyed by being drilled full of holes, having tanks filled with cement, computers smashed, wiring cut, even steamrollered. And then there are the chemicals. Sarin, for instance, is stored in two parts, which aren’t deadly poison until mixed. One of the parts is simply alcohol. Experts say that alcohol can safely be poured onto the desert to evaporate. 

The phase after that, destroying the 1000 metric tons of more toxic gas components, is expected to take longer. Experts have expressed doubts about next summer for that deadline, while adding that it won’t be as urgent once the machinery and easily destroyed component chemicals are eliminated.

 

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