The group overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal is confident its inspectors will meet their November 1 deadline for rendering inoperable the elements that make immediate warfare possible.
At a Tuesday press conference in The Hague, Organization for the Prohibitions of Chemical Weapons spokesman Michael Luhan said their teams had already made significant progress. He said that this phase of efforts is to destroy production capacity, as well as machines that are used to mix precursors into deadly chemicals and those used to fill those deadly chemicals into rockets. He said already “destruction activities have now been conducted at all but one of the relevant sites in Syria.”
“What it means is that it will no longer have the capability to produce any more chemical weapons, and it will no longer have any working equipment to mix and to fill chemical weapons agent into munitions,” he said. “That’s specifically what will be the case, that’s what we expect to be the case as of November 1.”
As of Tuesday, the OPCW inspection team had visited 18 of the 23 chemical weapons sites Syrian authorities have disclosed. Luhan noted their teams had started “functional destruction” at almost all of those sites.
He described those activities only in general terms.
“They are using low-tech methods that we had discussed some weeks ago when we were just starting the mission up.” he said. “It involves smashing things, cutting things, in some cases using cement and other things; smashing things with heavy vehicles, one or all of those activities. But all low-tech and quick and cheap.”
Luhan said the 27 OPCW inspection team members in Syria have had “good access” and that as this phase winds down, the organization next week will temporarily reduce their presence to 15.
The phase after the destruction of machinery involves the far trickier destruction of the chemicals. Syria has more than 1,000 pounds of chemical weapons, including the deadly neuro toxins Sarin and V/X, as well as mustard gas.
The destruction of those chemicals and their precursors is scheduled to be complete by next summer.
The OPCW and the international community got involved this closely in Syria in the wake of an August 21 attack that inspectors said definitely included the use of chemical weapons. The OPCW report on that attack did not assess blame, though others studying their findings believe the types of weapons used, and the clear paths of those rockets during the attacks, indicated the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing the inspection teams remains the unstable security situation inside Syria, where a bloody and protracted civil war continues.
On that, Luhan said: “I don't want to elaborate too much, but essentially the security concerns around those sites are that our access needs to be negotiated to be able to conduct verification and other work at those sites.”
But, he added, that while there had been reports of attacks near hotel of the inspection team in the first days of their time in Syria, they have not faced further, similar threats.