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UN Chief Wants Syrian Chemical Weapons Stockpile Destroyed

  • Margaret Besheer

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during a news conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Sept. 9, 2013.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during a news conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, Sept. 9, 2013.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he will urge the Security Council to demand that Syria transfer its chemical weapons stocks to areas in the country where they can be safely stored and destroyed. His call comes as Moscow urges Damascus to put its weapons under international control to avert a possible U.S. military strike.

As the world awaits the report of a U.N. team of experts who visited Syria and took environmental and medical samples from the site of the August 21 suspected chemical weapons attack, the U.N. chief said Monday that he is already considering proposals he can make to the U.N. Security Council when he presents the team’s findings in the coming days.

“I’m considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed,” said Ban.

Ban said he has not yet received the report from U.N. team leader Ake Sellstrom, nor does he know what it will contain. But he said if it confirms the use of chemical weapons led to the deaths of hundreds of people on August 21 outside Damascus, then it would be an “abominable crime” to which the international community would have to respond.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Monday for the Syrian president to surrender control of "every single bit'' of his arsenal to the international community by the end of the week.

Russia's foreign minister also proposed that Syria put its chemical weapons under international control to prevent a possible U.S. military reprisal. Reports quoting Syria’s foreign minister appear to welcome the offer.

Paul Walker, program director at Green Cross International and an expert on chemical weapons, said it would be a very good idea for President Bashar al-Assad to declare his government’s chemical stockpiles and join the Geneva protocol banning their use.

“I think it still would be a very positive step forward and might be the one open door left to President Assad to hold off a very serious military strike - which obviously would threaten the Assad regime, and certainly his chemical, military forces and command and control,” said Walker.

Walker noted that moving such stockpiles is very hazardous work. “Part of it would depend to what extent their chemical agents are alive - in other words-- are they already prepared? Are they loaded into weapons? If they are it could be quite dangerous.”

If the chemicals are separate from the weapons and haven’t been pre-mixed into a live agent, Walker said they still are toxic, but can be moved much more safely.

He said that if Assad signs the convention against chemical weapons, he would be required to immediately declare all of his stockpiles. Then inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague would come and inventory the cache. After that the destruction program would begin.

Walker cautions that this is a long, costly and complicated process. He points to the United States’ elimination of its own stockpiles, noting that 23 years into its destruction program, the U.S. has done away with only 90 percent of its chemical agents and still has 3,000 metric tons to go.

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