Syria offers plans for chemical arms

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GENEVA -- Syria submitted a formal declaration of its chemical weapons program and its plans for destroying its arsenal three days ahead of the deadline, the international chemical weapons watchdog said Sunday.

The watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has been charged with monitoring and destroying Syria's chemical weapons program, said that it had received the Syrian submission Thursday and that the agency's Executive Council would review the declaration's "general plan of destruction" by Nov. 15.

It was not immediately clear, however, whether the declaration's listing of chemical weapons sites was exhaustive, an important test of President Bashar Assad's willingness to cooperate with the program to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons infrastructure and arsenal.

Saying that such declarations are confidential, the chemical weapons agency declined to disclose or discuss the contents of the Syrian document.

U.S. officials said in September that Syria's chemical weapons program included at least 45 sites. But when Syria submitted a preliminary declaration of its chemical weapons program that month, it declared only 23 sites.

The State Department has never fully explained the discrepancy. Some of the gap, U.S. officials have suggested, may reflect efforts by the Syrians to consolidate their chemical weapons stocks, as well as the haste in which the Assad government compiled the initial list.

But U.S. officials also have suggested that Syria's preliminary declaration was not complete and stressed the need for the Assad government to do better in the formal declaration.

The United States has a number of ways to make its concerns about Syrian compliance known, including by direct contact with the Syrian officials. In the main, however, the Obama administration is counting on Russia, Syria's main ally, to use its influence with Assad to persuade him to comply.

The initiative to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons program came from the Russians, who were looking for a way to avert U.S. military action against the Assad government. The White House had threatened to launch airstrikes after a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21.

U.S. and Russian officials hammered out the details of a disarmament plan in Geneva in September. Later that month, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution that required Syria to give up its arms.

That measure noted that if Syria failed to cooperate, the Security Council could take measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, the strongest form of a council resolution. Such steps could include economic sanctions or even military action. Before any action could be taken, the issue would have to return to the Security Council for further deliberations; Russia, like the other permanent members, holds a veto on the council.

Syria's declaration arrived as the chemical weapons agency, which is based in The Hague, said its inspectors had visited 19 of the 23 chemical weapons sites that Syria initially listed and had completed the destruction of equipment for mixing chemical agents and loading weapons at the sites.


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