Two weeks after describing the process of destroying Syria’s chemical weapons as a
nightmare, experts and officials are saying that the task may be easier than expected.
U.S. and Russian officials now believe that most of Syria’s nerve agent stockpile is “unweaponized” liquid precursors that could be neutralized relatively quickly, Joby Warrick of The Washington reports.
A confidential assessment of Russian and U.S. analysis estimates that Syria’s entire arsenal could be destroyed in about nine months if the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cooperates fully.
A senior State Department official told reporters that U.S. officials who have reviewed the Syrian disclosure of inventory “found it quite good.”
Two people who attended the White House briefings told The Post that the analysts concluded that Syria’s arsenal, considered to be the world’s third largest, consists of 300 metric tons of the blister agent sulfur mustard and more than 700 metric tons of chemical precursors of nerve agents in “unweaponized” and “liquid bulk” form.
“If the vast majority of it consists of precursors in bulk form, that is very good news,” Michael Kuhlman, a chief scientist who has supervised the destruction of America’s chemical stockpile, told The Post. “Now you’re dealing with tanks of chemicals that are corrosive and dangerous, but not nerve agents. And the destruction processes for those chemicals are well in hand.”
Warrick notes that the two chemical precursors for the nerve agent sarin are blended using special equipment as they are loaded into specialised rockets, bombs, or artillery shells.
Another expert noted that destroying the equipment could severely hamper Syria’s ability to launch a chemical attack.
The remaining problems include securing the chemicals in an active warzone and protecting workers overseeing the destruction.
Cheryl Rofer, who supervised a team responsible for destroying chemical warfare agents at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, told Foreign Policy that the disarmament work “is simply too dangerous to do while people are shooting at each other.”
A full cease-fire between Assad and the fractured rebels is highly unlikely and impossible to enforce (for the same reasons why the first one panned).
On Thursday Russia offered to provide troops to guard the workers and dozens of facilities where destruction would take place.
One former United Nations weapons inspector from Iraq told The New York Times that any troops sent ot carry out the task “will be a target for someone, for one group or another. Because no matter who you are, you get mortared somewhere by one of the parties.”
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