The challenge of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons
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In a bid to solve the impasse of how to react to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Russia has proposed the country’s stockpile be handed over for international supervision and dismantlement. But is it a workable solution?
Dismantling Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons under international supervision – as mooted by Russia – would pose fundamental difficulties and could take years to accomplish.
On Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said Damascus had "already agreed" to the Russian proposal.
But destroying these weapons poses practical problems.
Firstly, it would require knowing the precise location of the stockpiles, believed to be in dozens of sites across Syria – an aspect on which France has expressed considerable reservations despite its judgment that Moscow’s proposed solution is, in theory, workable.
“This would be an extremely difficult operation to organise and execute,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Europe 1 radio on Tuesday. “We know that Syria has more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons.”
He added that any dismantling would have to take place under strict international supervision.
FRANCE 24’s International Affairs Editor Gauthier Rybinski noted: “And if the regime has hidden these weapons away, how could the international community be 100 percent sure they had found all of them and destroyed them accordingly?”
Buying time to ‘kill more Syrians’
Even if Assad agreed to Russia's proposal, allowing international inspectors to remove such arms from his reach while rebel fighters continue to push for the fall of his government would present major difficulties.
"It's hard for me to imagine how this could happen in the middle of a civil war," Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, told AFP.
"This is a very difficult engineering task. It requires facilities to be built to destroy the weapons."
This would require a long-term international presence to track the process, said Kimball: "It's not something you want to do with the threat of mortar shells hitting the area."
Khaled Saleh, spokesman for the main opposition Syrian National Coalition, criticised the proposal, saying Assad would be unlikely to follow through and would use the step to "buy more time to kill more Syrians”.
Along with Angola, North Korea, Egypt and South Sudan, Syria did not ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention that came into force in 1997, outlawing stockpiling of sarin and the VX nerve agent, which are believed to constitute a large part of Syria’s chemical arsenal.