News / Middle East

Syria Believed to Have Vast Chemical Weapons Arsenal

In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, U.N. investigators take samples from a Damascus suburb, August 28, 2013.
In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, U.N. investigators take samples from a Damascus suburb, August 28, 2013.
VOA News
Syria is believed to have one of the world's largest arsenals of chemical weapons, a vast collection of sarin, mustard gas and VX nerve agents.

The exact extent of the Syrian cache is unknown outside the country, but Western intelligence agencies believe the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has been annually manufacturing hundreds of tons of the chemical agents at research and production facilities.

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
x
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
There are known chemical weapons sites in such western Syria cities as Homs, Hama, Latakia and Al-Safir and near the capital, Damascus, but some of the agents could be hidden throughout the country.

Syria last year confirmed possession of unconventional weapons, but has never given an inventory of its stockpile. Damascus has never signed a global treaty banning the storage of chemical weapons, but is a signatory to a 1925 treaty prohibiting their use.

Chemical agents of choice

Syria's chemical agents are both debilitating and deadly. Sarin can contaminate food and water, while mustard gas inflicts chemical burns and VX is the most toxic of all nerve agents, poisoning through the skin.

After Syria's suspected sarin attack last month on rebels fighting to overthrow the Assad government killed more than 1,400 people, U.S. President Barack Obama called for a military strike against Syria to deter future use of the nerve agents.

But now Obama and other Western leaders say they are willing to consider a Russian proposal to put the Syrian chemical weapons under international control for their subsequent destruction, which Syria has agreed to.

US President Barack Obama (Sept. 6, 2013 file photo)US President Barack Obama (Sept. 6, 2013 file photo)
x
US President Barack Obama (Sept. 6, 2013 file photo)
US President Barack Obama (Sept. 6, 2013 file photo)
But the American leader is wary about the ability to find all the Syrian chemical weapons. In an interview Monday, Obama told CBS: "The importance is to make sure that the international community has confidence that these chemical weapons are under control, that they are not being used, that potentially they are removed from Syria and that they are destroyed.''

In another interview on Syria, the president told ABC that the world must maintain its prohibition against the use of chemical weapons.

"I want to make sure that that norm against use of chemical weapons is maintained," he said. "If we can do that without a military strike, that's overwhelmingly my preference."

Potential dangers

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
x
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
Finding all the Syrian chemical weapons, and then dismantling them, could be difficult. Weapons experts say that if the chemical agents have been loaded into missiles, it could be dangerous to disable them or move them out of the country.

U.N. inspectors were fired upon when they first sought to investigate the suspected chemical weapons attack last month, and international agencies have been hard-pressed to determine whether all chemical weapons have been found, even when countries have disclosed information about their arsenals.

In Libya, one-time leader Moammar Gadhafi cooperated with a NATO disarmament program, but after his 2011 downfall, mustard gas was found on military bases.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid