Last known chemical weapon components leave Syria

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BERLIN — The last known com­po­nents of Syria’s chem­i­cal weap­ons ar­se­nal steamed away from that war-torn na­tion Mon­day. While their re­moval came a bit be­hind sched­ule, it was hailed by ex­perts as a ma­jor mile­stone that makes the world a safer place.

The fi­nal load of chem­i­cals used to pro­duce deadly and dan­ger­ous weap­ons such as sa­rin and mus­tard gas left Syria aboard a Dan­ish ship that sailed from the port of Lat­a­kia. The Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, or OPCW, in The Hague, Nether­lands, which over­saw Syria’s chem­i­cal dis­ar­ma­ment, noted that never be­fore had weap­ons of mass de­struc­tion been re­moved from a coun­try em­broiled in armed con­flict.

Ah­met Uzumcu, the OPCW di­rec­tor-gen­eral, was cau­tious in hail­ing the de­par­ture of the last chem­i­cal weap­ons com­po­nents that the gov­ern­ment of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad had de­clared. But he was op­ti­mis­tic that the or­ga­ni­za­tion would be able to fer­ret out any weap­ons that Syria had hid­den from in­spec­tors. “We can­not say that all chem­i­cal weap­ons have left Syria,” he said, “but there are mech­a­nisms in place to in­ves­ti­gate if there are sus­pi­cions.”

He noted that Western in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments of the size of Syria’s chem­i­cal ar­se­nal were very sim­i­lar to the 1,300 tons that Syria de­clared — and that have now been ei­ther de­stroyed or re­moved from the coun­try. “The mis­sion to elim­i­nate Syria’s chem­i­cal weap­ons pro­gram has been a ma­jor un­der­tak­ing marked by an ex­tra­or­di­nary in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion,” he said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Mon­day.

The Dan­ish ship will head across the Medi­ter­ra­nean Sea to the port in Gioia Tauro, Italy, where a spe­cially trained U.S. mil­i­tary crew on the spe­cially out­fit­ted MV Cape Ray will take on about 560 tons of the most dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals, then head out to sea, where they will be de­stroyed. The de­struc­tion aboard the ship could take 60 days. The de­struc­tion of other parts of the ar­se­nal, and the ef­flu­ent from the Cape Ray’s ef­forts, would take a cou­ple months lon­ger.

The re­moval of the last of the chem­i­cals came one week be­fore a dead­line the United States and Rus­sia agreed to in Sep­tem­ber, when they ne­go­ti­ated the de­struc­tion of Syria’s chem­i­cal weap­ons.

In not­ing the re­moval, Josh Ear­nest, White House press sec­re­tary, re­called the Aug. 21, 2013, chem­i­cal at­tack out­side Da­mas­cus that killed hun­dreds. Rus­sia pro­posed end­ing Syria’s chem­i­cal weap­ons ca­pa­bil­ity to head off threat­ened U.S. air­strikes.

“There is no starker re­minder that for al­most 100 years, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has deemed the use of these weap­ons to be far be­yond the bounds of ac­cept­able con­duct,” Mr. Ear­nest said. “The re­moval of these ma­teri­als sends a clear mes­sage that the use of these ab­hor­rent weap­ons has con­se­quences and will not be tol­er­ated by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

Daryl G. Kim­ball, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion in Wash­ing­ton, called the Syr­ian dis­ar­ma­ment “un­prece­dented” and “a ma­jor mile­stone that will help pro­tect Syria’s be­lea­guered and bat­tered pop­u­la­tion from fur­ther, large-scale chem­i­cal weap­ons at­tacks.” He said it “has been far more suc­cess­ful in de­stroy­ing the stock­pile and pro­tect­ing the Syr­ian peo­ple than the al­ter­na­tive con­tem­plated in Sep­tem­ber: U.S. cruise mis­sile strikes against chem­i­cal weap­ons tar­gets.”

Mr. Uzumcu said the OPCW re­mains con­cerned by al­le­ga­tions that the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment in re­cent months has used chlo­rine gas in so-called bar­rel bomb­ings of rebel-held ar­eas, which he said the OPCW would con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate. But he also said that while us­ing chlo­rine would be a vi­o­la­tion of the chem­i­cal weap­ons treaty, chlo­rine it­self is not a banned chem­i­cal weapon. “Chlo­rine is not a declar­able sub­stance,” he said. “It is used ev­ery day in ev­ery coun­try in the world.”

syria - United States - North America - Middle East - Bashar Assad - Josh Earnest


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