Syria submits further details of chemical weapons to monitoring group


The OPCW has received a declaration from Syria on the country's chemical weapons arsenal, a spokesman said on September 20, 2013. (Guus Schoonewille/EPA)
September 21, 2013

Syria has submitted a second statement containing details of its chemical-weapons stockpiles to the international organization charged with monitoring and destroying them, the group reported Saturday.

In a statement from its headquarters in The Hague, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the “expected disclosure from the Syrian government” had been received. An initial document was submitted Friday. It said the material was being reviewed by the OPCW “technical secretariat.”

The announcement indicated that Syria has fulfilled its initial obligation under a U.S.-Russia disarmament agreement, and the list will now be compared to an accounting of Syria’s chemical arsenal already submitted by those two governments.

But the OPCW has postponed a Sunday meeting at which its executive committee was to have begun discussing implementation of the agreement, under which the organization is to begin putting the stockpiles under international control next month and eliminate them during the first half of next year.

The OPCW’s postponement came amid an increasingly heated dispute between Russia and the United States over how to establish Syrian violations of the weapons agreement, according to diplomats close to the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the closed-door discussions.

Syria

How the intelligence stacks up

The United States wants that determination made by the OPCW, where Russia has no veto and decisions require only a two-thirds majority. Russia wants alleged violations referred to the U.N. Security Council for final determination, the diplomats said.

A similar dispute is underway at the U.N. Security Council, where the two sides have been unable to reach agreement on a resolution to enshrine the terms of the U.S.-Russia deal — negotiated last week by Secretary of State John F. Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — and to ensure consequences for noncompliance.

The agreement refers to “measures” to be taken against Syria if it reneges on any aspect of the deal.

A senior White House official said President Obama would “reinforce the need for the international community to stand strong against chemical weapons” in Syria when he addresses the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

Obama will “continue to argue . . . for a United Nations Security Council resolution that enforces consequences” on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “should they fail to cooperate . . . on this issue,” deputy national security adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes said at a briefing for reporters.

Kerry said he had a “fairly long conversation” by telephone Friday morning with Lavrov. “We talked about the cooperation which we both agreed to continue to provide, 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,” Kerry said at the start of a State Department meeting with his visiting counterpart from the Netherlands. “We will continue to work on that.”

The United States, France and Britain have proposed a U.N. resolution that would authorize the Security Council to begin immediate discussion of punitive measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter if Syria reneges on the deal. Russia and China have objected to the use of Chapter 7 — which includes a provision for the use of military force — and have said that any discussion of consequences should wait to see whether Syria complies.

Under council rules, any of its five member countries can veto a resolution.

“Our position is that Chapter 7 is necessary so that there are consequences,” Rhodes said. “We would argue for the strongest possible enforcement.”

He noted that Chapter 7 “allows for a range of consequences,” including trade and diplomatic sanctions, in addition to the possible use of force. In the course of negotiations with the Russians, the U.S.-British-French draft has dropped a provision referring the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes prosecution.

A Russian draft mentions a Chapter 7 resolution only as a future step to be considered “in the event of indisputable and proved fact of non-compliance . . . if the gravity of the situation so requires.”

The administration has resisted accusing Russia of trying to undercut the accord by building in delays for punishment and has emphasized that agreement on a resolution must be reached soon.

“Given the urgency, this type of thing needs to be completed in weeks, not months,” Rhodes said. “We don’t want to set a hard timeline, but we will be working through the week in New York, and we’d like to see a solution as soon as possible.”

The U.S.-Russia accord was aimed at averting a U.S. military strike against Syria in response to a deadly chemical attack last month outside Damascus. Rhodes reiterated that Obama’s threatened use of unilateral U.S. military force remains on the table.

Lynch reported from the United Nations. Michael Birnbaum in Berlin contributed to this report.

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.
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