Posts Tagged ‘OPCW’

EU sanctions 16 more Syrians over chemical attacks

July 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley holds photos of victims as the UN Security Council meets in an emergency session in April about a suspected deadly chemical attack that killed civilians, including children, in Syria

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions against 16 more high-ranking military Syrian officials and scientists over chemical weapons attacks on civilians, a statement said.

The move by the bloc’s foreign ministers brings to 255 people now facing a travel ban and an assets freeze over President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on civilians during a five-year civil war.

“The EU added these 16 persons for their role in the development and use of chemical weapons against the civilian population,” an EU statement said.

The EU will release the names of those hit by the sanctions on Tuesday, it said.

The UN’s chemical watchdog, the OPCW, last month concluded that sarin was used as a chemical weapon in the April 4 attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun that killed at least 87 people including children.

The sanctions decision “shows the resolve of the UK and the rest of our friends in Europe in dealing with those who are responsible for chemical weapons attacks,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters just before the decision was announced.

Syria is already subject to an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the assets of the Syrian central bank held in the EU, as well as export restrictions.

It also is under sanctoins on equipment and technology that might be used for internal repression as well as on equipment and technology for the monitoring or interception of internet or telephone communications.

France Says Watchdog’s Report on Syria Proves Sarin Gas Used in April — Russia Says Chemical Watchdog’s Report “Biased”

June 30, 2017

PARIS — France said on Friday that a report by the world’s chemical weapons watchdog that nerve agent sarin was used in an April attack in Syria was “unequivocal” and that the organization’s members should act firmly on its findings.

“The conclusions of this report are indisputable,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The OPCW and its members must assume their responsibilities and condemn, in the strongest terms, this intolerable violation of the non-proliferation regime.”

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Bate Felix)

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Image result for Khan Sheikhoun, chemical weapons, photos

Russia Says Chemical Watchdog’s Report on Syria Attack Is Biased: Agencies

MOSCOW — A report by the world’s chemical weapons watchdog that the banned nerve agent sarin was used in an attack in northern Syria in April is based on “doubtful evidence”, Russian news agencies quoted Russia’s Foreign Ministry as saying on Friday.

The report, seen by Reuters on Thursday, was circulated to members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, but was not made public.

The attack on April 4, when dozens of people were killed in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province, was the most deadly in Syria’s civil war in more than three years. It prompted a U.S. missile strike against a Syrian air base which Washington said was used to launch the strike.

“Unfortunately, after a first reading of this document we are forced to note that its conclusions are based on extremely doubtful evidence,” TASS news agency quoted Russia’s Foreign Ministry as saying.

“The contents of the report compiled by a special commission of the OPCW, are largely biased, which makes us think that the activities of this structure serve a political order,” TASS quoted the ministry as saying.

Russia and its allies in the administration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deny that his forces deployed chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun.

Moscow has said the attack was carried out by Assad’s opponents, who, Russian officials alleged, made it look as though it was the work of government forces.

(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov and Christian Lowe)

See also:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4385534/Syrian-father-watched-22-relatives-die-gas-attack.html

Chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria: OPCW chief says

April 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A child receives treatment following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in Syria’s the northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

THE HAGUE (AFP) – 

Experts from the world’s watchdog tasked with destroying chemical weapons are probing reports that toxic arms have been used 45 times in Syria since late last year, the body’s chief said Friday.

Director general Ahmet Uzumcu said there was “a huge list of allegations” of the use of toxic arms reported to the operations hub of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In the “second part of 2016, 30 different incidents, and since the beginning of this year, 15 separate incidents, so 45,” he told a reporters, brandishing a list of several pages which he chose to keep confidential.

They include the April 4 sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun that was reported to have killed 88 people, including 31 children.

“All these allegations are recorded by our experts, who follow this every day from our operations centre,” Uzumcu said.

The OPCW is currently trying to ensure it is safe enough to deploy its fact-finding team to the town for further analysis, after Uzumcu said last week that “incontrovertible” test results from OPCW-designated labs on samples taken from victims showed sarin gas or a similar substance had been used.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “already stated that they would support this mission, actually they have invited us to go via Damascus,” he said.

“The problem is that this area is controlled by different armed opposition groups, so we need to strike some deals with them to ensure a temporary ceasefire, which we understand the Syrian government is willing to do,” he added.

“If we can put all this together then we will deploy. The team is ready, and we have the volunteers.”

However, it is not yet mandated to also visit the Shayrat air base in the central Syrian province of Homs.

The base was the target of a US strike launched in the wake of the Khan Sheikhun attack, and Russia has called for the allegations that it was stocking chemical weapons to be investigated.

Uzumcu also confirmed that the OPCW, based in The Hague, believed jihadist rebels from the so-called Islamic State group had used “sulphur mustard” near Iraq’s second city of Mosul last week.

The Iraqi military said some security personnel were injured in the April 15 attack as part of the operation to recapture Mosul.

The OPCW has offered to help Iraqi forces investigate, but “they have not yet requested any assistance,” Uzumcu said.

U.S. defense secretary says Syria dispersed warplanes, retains chemical weapons

April 21, 2017

Reuters

By Idrees Ali | TEL AVIV

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that Syria had dispersed its warplanes in recent days and that it retained chemical weapons, an issue he said would have to be taken up diplomatically.

The United States launched dozens of missiles earlier this month against a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack that killed 90 people, including 30 children. It says the Syrian government launched the attack from the Shayrat air base.

The Pentagon has said that the strike had damaged or destroyed about 20 percent of the Syrian military’s operational aircraft.

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During a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart, Mattis was asked whether the Syrian military had moved warplanes to a Russian base in Latakia.

“They have dispersed their aircraft, no doubt. They have dispersed their aircraft in recent days,” Mattis said.

Mattis also reiterated that the United States believed Syria had retained some chemical weapons.

“The bottom line is, I can say authoritatively they have retained some (chemical weapons). It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically,” Mattis said.

Israel’s military said on Wednesday it believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces still possess several tonnes of chemical weapons.

A senior Israeli military officer told Israeli reporters that “a few tonnes of chemical weapons” remained in the hands of Assad’s forces, a military official told Reuters.

In a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the United States, Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons, a global watchdog, said sarin or a similar banned toxin was used in the April 4 strike in Syria’s Idlib province.

Mattis later met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Before the start of their talks, Netanyahu said he was optimistic about relations between the two countries under the new U.S. administration.

The two countries are working to set a more positive tone after eight years of friction under President Donald Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Gareth Jones and Richard Lough)

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: It Is Clear The West Means To Oust Assad (OPCW has lost trust in Russia over Chemical Weapons)

April 21, 2017

Russia Today (RT)

OPCW’s block of on-site probe shows Western powers now aiming to oust Assad – Lavrov
The attempt by Western countries to derail Russia’s fact-finding initiative in Syria to examine the site of the chemical incident in Idlib province exposes their aim to topple the Syrian government, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

READ MORE: Russia questions Britain’s chemical weapons investigation in Syria

“I believe that it’s a very serious situation, because now it’s obvious that false information about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is being used to move away from implementing Resolution 2254, which stipulates a political settlement with the participation of all the Syrian parties, and aims to switch to the long-cherished idea of regime change,” Lavrov said, speaking at a press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Astana.

UNSC Resolution 2254 calls for an inclusive government in Syria and a peace process that would involve a new constitution and free and fair elections.

According to the minister, the decision displayed “complete incompetence” on the part of his Western colleagues, who, in fact, are “prohibiting the OPCW from sending their experts to the site of the incident, as well as to the airfield from where aircraft loaded with chemical weapons allegedly flew out.”

“Yesterday [April 20], our proposal that experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] visit the sites of the suspected chemical attack in Syria was blocked by Western delegations without any explanations,” Lavrov said.

© AFP/File | A child receives treatment following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in Syria’s the northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

In the meantime, the UK and France claim their experts have received samples from the site of the incident, Lavrov added.

READ MORE: UN doesn’t send experts to Idlib ‘chemical incident’ site as West & US are blocking it – Assad

“London, Paris, and the OPCW have given no answers to our questions as to where they took these samples, who took them, or when they were delivered,” Lavrov stated.

“I think we are very close to this organization [OPCW] being discredited,” Lavrov added.

On Thursday, the OPCW’s executive council overwhelmingly rejected a proposal from Russia and Iran for a new investigation into the Idlib chemical incident.

The Executive Council has overwhelmingly rejected the Russian and Iranian decision which attempted to undercut the FFM

The proposal had been amended to agree to Western demands that the investigation into the alleged attack be carried out by the existing OPCW fact-finding mission, but was defeated nonetheless.

The draft proposal seen by AFP called on the OPCW “to establish whether chemical weapons were used in Khan Sheikhoun and how they were delivered to the site of the reported incident.”

Both OPCW fact-checking missions tasked with looking into the Idlib incident are being headed by UK citizens, which Lavrov called “a very strange coincidence” that “runs contrary to the principles of an international organization.”

Earlier in April, an incident in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun reportedly killed as many as 100 people and injured several hundred. The US has squarely laid the blame on Damascus, claiming that it hid chemical weapons stockpiles from the OPCW after pledging to hand them over in 2013.

Moscow, however, said a thorough investigation, including an on-site inspection in rebel-held territory, should be carried out before jumping to any conclusions. Russia has cautioned that the incident may have been a false flag operation meant to provoke a US attack against Syrian government forces.

https://www.rt.com/news/385515-lavrov-opcw-mission-syria-blocked/

Related:

 

Chemical arms watchdog to vote on Russian-Iranian bid for new Syria probe

April 20, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A child receives treatment following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in Syria’s the northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

THE HAGUE (AFP) – The governing body of the global chemical arms watchdog will Thursday vote on a controversial Russian-Iranian move to set up a new team to probe a suspected chemical attack in Syria, sources told AFP.

The draft decision, seen by AFP, calls for an investigation “to establish whether chemical weapons were used in Khan Sheikhun and how they were delivered to the site of the reported incident” — even though a probe is already underway.

It also calls for investigators to visit the Shayrat airbase — bombed by the United States after the April 4 attack — to “verify allegations concerning the storage of chemical weapons” there.

The move comes as the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Wednesday “incontrovertible” test results by the OPCW team already probing the incident had shown sarin gas or a similar substance were used in the April 4 attack.

Samples from three people killed in the attack and seven survivors analysed at four OPCW-designated laboratories “indicate exposure to sarin or a sarin-like substance,” said OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu.

Western nations have accused the Syrian regime of carrying out the suspected air strike on the rebel-held town in Idlib province which killed at least 87 people, including many children.

But Moscow, the closest ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is leading efforts to sideline the OPCW’s existing fact-finding mission by calling for a new “full-scale and thorough investigation”.

The move has raised hackles at the OPCW executive council meeting this week in The Hague, where nations have lined up to voice support for the existing fact-finding team.

The team “deserves our full confidence,” the Belgian representative to the OPCW told the meeting on Wednesday.

“We don’t see the need to put in place a new structure.”

The draft decision, due to be voted on by the council later Thursday, also calls for member states to “provide national experts for participation in the investigation.”

Such a move would be against the convention against chemical weapons “as it is the role of the OPCW to lead independently any investigation,” one source close to the discussions told AFP.

Russia last week vetoed a UN draft resolution condemning the attack and demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation, blocking Security Council action against its ally for an eighth time.

After Moscow initially said a Syrian air strike had struck a “terrorist warehouse” containing “toxic substances,” Russian President Vladimir Putin last week accused Assad’s opponents of planning to stage chemical attacks to lure Washington deeper into the conflict.

On Friday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticised the OPCW for not sending experts to the attack site, saying it was “unacceptable to analyse events from a distance”.

But Uzumcu vowed Wednesday an OPCW team was ready to head to the town “should the security situation so permit. I am told that this would require a 48-hour ceasefire and safe passage for the team to be arranged”.

Related:

Russia, Syria & Iran demand no further US strikes on Syria – foreign ministers — Retreat into make believe world of “Assad did not use chemical weapons” while lashing out at US, UK

April 14, 2017

Russia Today (RT)

Russia, Syria & Iran demand no further US strikes on Syria – foreign ministers
The US cruise missile attack on Syria was an act of international aggression, Russia, Syria and Iran have stated after a meeting of their foreign ministers in Moscow.

“We have reiterated our position and were united in stating that the attack was an act of aggression, which blatantly violated the principles of international law and the UN Charter,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

“We call on the US and its allies to respect Syria’s sovereignty and refrain from actions similar to what happened on April 7, and which have serious ramification not only for regional, but also global security,” he added.

Read more

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R), U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L), April 12, 2017. © Maxim Shemetov

Lavrov was referring to the Tomahawk missile barrage fired by the US Navy at a Syrian airbase in Homs province. Washington ordered the attack after accusing Damascus of launching a chemical weapons attack at a rebel-held town in Idlib province from that airbase. Russia condemned the move, saying the US hadn’t offered any proof to pin the alleged chemical weapons incident on the Syrian Army.

Meeting with his Iranian and Syrian counterparts, Javad Zarif and Walid Muallem, on Friday, Lavrov pledged to continue Russia’s support of Damascus in fighting terrorism and restoring peace in Syria.

He added that Moscow suspects that the Idlib incident was a provocative act aimed at derailing negotiations between the Syrian government and so-called moderate rebel groups on a political transition in the country. Lavrov said the perpetrators of the deadly release of toxins must be found.

“We insist on a thorough, objective and unbiased investigation of the circumstance of the use of chemical substances in Khan Shaykhun on April 4,” he said, adding that the investigating team must include inspectors chosen from nations from different parts of the world to ensure its objectivity.

US President Donald Trump. © Jonathan Ernst

Muallem pledged full cooperation of Damascus in carrying out such a probe.

The Russian minister added that Moscow doubts the objectivity of the current mechanisms for investigating alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, considering the difference in how the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) handles reports by Damascus and by other parties.

“When accusations come against the Syrian government, the OPCW reacts in a matter of days and voices its concern. But they never go on the sites of incidents located in the regions controlled by the armed opposition, citing security issues,” he said. “We consider such analysis from a distance unacceptable.”

Lavrov also accused the US of reviving the Obama administration goal of toppling the Syrian government instead of seeking a political solution, citing the Tomahawk missile attack.

“Such acts of aggression are obviously meant to derail the peace process, which was endorsed in a unanimously adopted resolution of the UN Security Council and implies that the fate of Syria would be decided only by the Syrian people,” he said. “The action was obviously deviating from this basic concept and find new protects to aim for regime change.”

READ MORE: White House claims on Syria chemical attack ‘obviously false’ – MIT professor (VIDEO)

Lavrov said there is an increasing amount of evidence pointing to the conclusion that the chemical incident in Idlib province was staged to set up the Syrian government.

“Publications by professional experts, including some in the US and Britain, say there are too many inconsistencies and gaps in the version of events presented to justify the [US] aggression,” he said.

Zarif accused “certain countries” of hypocrisy, citing Iran’s history of suffering from chemical weapons attack by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq during the 1980s war. Declassified CIA files showed that the US was well aware that Saddam was using CWs against Iranians, but didn’t oppose it and even provided intelligence for such attacks.

https://www.rt.com/news/384715-russia-iran-syria-strikes-demand/

Syria Attack Exposes Failed Obama, Kerry Deal to Rid Syrian Regime of Chemical Weapons (What should we think about the Iran nuclear deal?)

April 12, 2017

Efforts to identify gaps in original mission quickly unraveled; Moscow came to see probe as politicized

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying OPCW inspectors leaves a hotel in Damascus in October 2013.

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying OPCW inspectors leaves a hotel in Damascus in October 2013. PHOTO: LOUAI BESHARA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

ISTANBUL—The suspected sarin gas attack in Syria last week revealed one of the worst-kept secrets in international diplomacy: A 2013 deal brokered by Russia and the U.S. failed to cripple the Assad regime’s ability to make or use chemical weapons.

International investigators were already looking into eight incidents involving chemical weapons use just since the start of this year, according to a report by the United Nations Secretary General. Evidence was mounting that Damascus continued to use chemicals—including some it had pledged to give up—in attacks on its citizens, according to Western officials and others involved in the disarmament effort.

But Russia disputed the findings of investigators and experts and blocked any meaningful punishment at the United Nations, and Western powers declined to go further. In recent months, inspectors and diplomats trying to dismantle the chemical weapons program concluded they had hit a wall.

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The April 4 attack, which killed at least 85 adults and children, is a stark example of the challenge: It was launched from an airfield where inspectors years earlier had identified and destroyed a chemical weapons facility, according to two people familiar with the work of the joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations at the time.

Ridding Syria of Chemical Weapons: A Timeline

Western and allied intelligence agencies say the Syrian government has had a chemical weapons program since the 1980s. But Damascus never acknowledged having such weapons until a large-scale sarin attack outside Damascus in 2013- in the middle of a civil war to unseat President Bashar al-Assad- almost triggered U.S. military action. Instead, it led to a U.S.-Russian deal to clear Syria of its chemical weapons. Here are key moments since the start of the Syrian war to dismantle the program:

August 2013 — A sarin gas attack hits the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, killing at 1,429 people, according to the U.S. government.
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U.N. investigators already in Syria on the request of the Syrian government divert their attention to the Ghouta attack and conclude that chemical weapons were used on “a relatively large scale” in Eastern Ghouta.
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September 2013 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118 establishes a joint OPCW-U.N. mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program.
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October 2013 — Syria officially accedes to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
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To address mounting reports of chlorine attacks in rebel-held areas, the OPCW creates a separate fact-finding mission to investigate and confirm the possible use of toxic chemicals, including chlorine, as a weapon in Syria. (The mission’s mandate is only to verify if and what chemicals were used, not to identify perpetrators of attacks)
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March 2014 — OPCW inspectors report major anomalies in the Syrian government’s disclosures on its research and production facilities. The OPCW also creates a “Declaration Assessment Team” to “attempt to clarify gaps and discrepancies in Syria’s initial declaration.”
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June 2014 — The joint OPCW-U.N. mission says that all declared weapons materials of the Syrian Arab Republic have been removed.
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September 2014 — The OPCW fact-finding mission publishes a report concluding with “a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used as a weapon systematically and repeatedly in three villages in northern Syria.
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March 2015 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 2209 condemns the use of chlorine gas in Syria, noting that it is “the first ever documented instance of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons within the territory of a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
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August 2015 — Following a U.S.-backed proposal, the U.N. Security Council establishes a “Joint Investigative Mechanism” between the U.N. and the OPCW to hold accountable those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria. Its mission is to identify “individuals, entities, groups or governments” involved.
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April 2016 — The U.S. State Department says in a report that Syria hasn’t declared all elements of its chemical weapons program, in violation of its obligations and international norms.
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January 2017 — The Obama administration imposes sanctions on 18 senior Syria officials it says are involved in the use of chemical weapons, the first such sanctions on Syrian officials related to chemical weapons use.
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February 2017 — Russia and China veto a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to sanction the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons.

Sources: OPCW, U.N., WSJ research

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The U.S. struck the Shayrat Airfield, where Syrian and Russian forces worked side-by-side in recent months, with 59 Tomahawk missiles last week.

White House officials suspect Russia may have known Syria was preparing to launch a chemical attack, and on Tuesday accused Moscow of trying to cover it up.

The Syrian airforce has resumed bombing runs from the airbase since the U.S. airstrike.

“Assad didn’t fire his last salvo of CW, that’s for sure,” a U.S. official said, using an abbreviation for chemical weapons.

The U.S.-Russian agreement in 2013 sought to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program.

“Expectations are high… to deliver on the promise of this moment,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time.

The mandate of the mission that took up the work later narrowed the parameters to eliminating declared stockpiles and facilities.

Critics of the deal early on said it amounted to a victory for President Bashar al-Assad, who dodged an American military intervention at a moment of regime weakness in exchange for only what chemical stockpiles his regime would declare.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both of whom had backed U.S. military action in Syria, criticized the deal then for leaving out an explicit threat of military force for any failure by Syria to comply, calling it “an act of provocative weakness.”

Obama administration officials said the deal successfully rid Syria of the majority of its chemical weapons and that the alternative—a war with Syria or even Russia —would have been far worse.

Some officials involved in the OPCW-U.N. mission defend its success, saying it had a limited mandate and worked under unprecedented conditions to remove and destroy from Syria chemical weapons declared by the Syrian government. By August 2014, behind schedule but still not a year from its deployment, the mission removed 1,300 metric tons of chemicals from Syria, some destroyed at sea in operations that had never been tried before.

Any effort to paint the mission as flawed is “revisionism,” one official involved in its early set-up said, because “all parties involved seemed to be quite content with what had been declared, on the same page as to the extent and nature of the Syrian CW program.”

Non-proliferation experts concur in that assessment.

“Though not acknowledged openly, it is not possible to achieve 100% disarmament of a CW program and verify such, even in the best of circumstances and over a long-period of time. Syria in 2013 was anything but best case scenario,” said Michael Elleman, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who served on U.N. weapons inspection missions in Iraq. “I still view the mission as a success, from a non-proliferation perspective.”

U.S. and allied intelligence agencies meanwhile are trying to get a better picture of Syria’s chemical weapons after the attack.

A Wall Street Journal investigation in 2015 showed that the regime hid some nerve agents, scattered stockpiles to complicate the work of inspectors, and continued to operate weapons-research facilities even after the main mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in 2014 ended.

More recent concern among U.S. and allied officials, before the latest attack, centered on how traces of sarin were still showing up on the Syrian battlefield. Damascus was also turning to new toxins, such as chlorine and developing new munitions, according to Western officials tracking the issue.

Syria has repeatedly denied it has used chemical weapons.

Western officials and others directly involved in the effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons described in interviews what took place in the months and years that followed the 2013 deal.

The technical efforts to try to identify what the original mission omitted or missed—and the rare U.S.-Russian unity of purpose that backed it—would begin to unravel even before the Danish ship carrying the last batch of chemicals departed the Syrian port of Tartous in the summer of 2014. That spring, the team tasked with dismantling the program saw such inconsistencies between the Syrian government’s declarations and previous intelligence assessments that the OPCW set up a new team dedicated to filling the gaps.

In the months that followed, as scientists studied results from destroyed facilities and inspected equipment that Damascus had denied was related to chemical weapons, the discrepancies grew wider. For example, inspectors couldn’t reconcile the quantities of munitions the Syrians were producing with the chemical weapons they said they had intended to produce.

At the same time, the organization created a separate fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of chlorine attacks—which fell outside the mandate of the inspectors working on destroying the chemical weapons program—in rebel-held areas.

The follow-up work infuriated Russia and Iran, which wanted the OPCW to focus on a narrowly-defined technical mission, according to mission officials and diplomats. Chlorine attacks on rebels surged again several months later, and the OPCW fact-finding mission concluded in a public report that chlorine had been used as a weapon systematically in three villages in northern Syria.

In Damascus, the OPCW team trying to get clearer answers from the government on its initial declarations struggled to get face-time with the relevant officials. Several times they were told Syria had no other information to offer because no paper documents existed related to its chemical weapons program, a major state secret.

“What could be done?” said Wa’el Alzayat, a former advisor to Samantha Power, the U.S.’s former envoy to the U.N, recalling that time period in 2014. “There was no recourse on the U.N. Security Council because of the Russian veto, and there was no recourse on the ground because the [former] administration didn’t want to get involved militarily.”

At the U.N., reports to the Security Council based on briefings from the OPCW made clear Syria was skirting its obligations, but drafts were often watered down to avoid clashing with Russia, diplomats said. “There was absolutely no appetite in the U.N. or among member states to open that can of worms,” a senior U.N. official said. “Everybody conveniently decided to put it to rest, while the bureaucracy continued to report.”

The U.S. scored a diplomatic victory in late 2015, getting Russia at the Security Council to back a new U.N. mission with the OPCW, called the Joint Investigative Mechanism, to identify individuals, entities, groups, or governments involved in chemical weapons in Syria. “Pointing the finger matters,” Ms. Power, the U.S. envoy at the time, told the Security Council.

The resolution came after three more fact-finding missions in Syria established a pattern of attacks with chlorine, and indirectly pointed the blame at the government by identifying that helicopters were used in the attack.

They also found that in at one instance, Islamic State militants had likely used chemical weapons too. Syria had tried to “exercise veto power” over the fact finding missions, according to a U.S. State Department report, but was overruled by the organization.

Damascus at this time again said it had never used chemical weapons, and warned about their use by terrorist groups.

Within months of the new mission starting its work, U.S. and European officials believed they had the evidence they needed to coax Russia into their camp and consider U.N.-backed sanctions on the Syrian regime.

The mission identified Syrian military units and officials believed to be involved in chemical weapons attacks. But Moscow made clear it considered the reporting politicized and didn’t think any of the evidence was credible enough, U.N. diplomats said.

After a report on those findings, which one European official described as “the smoking gun,” was published in the early fall of 2016, it took several months for any response to be debated in earnest, and then attention turned to the Russian-backed Syrian government campaign to drive rebels out of the city of Aleppo.

By the end of 2016, the U.N. was citing “no progress” in the effort to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program. With no movement at the U.N., Western nations reverted to sanctions. In November 2016, the E.U. placed sanctions on 17 Syrian officials. The Obama administration followed the move in January 2017, sanctioning 18 senior Syrian officials it said were involved in the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

In March, OPCW investigators told their counterparts at the U.N. they had no new information to report from Syria and were aiming to resume high-level consultations with the Syrian government in early May.

Corrections & Amplifications
Samantha Power was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in 2015. An earlier version of this article misspelled her surname on second reference. An earlier version of this story (April 12)

Write to Nour Malas at nour.malas@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/syria-attack-exposes-failed-deal-to-rid-regime-of-chemical-weapons-1491963112

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What should we think about the Iran nuclear deal?

Pressure mounts for UN action on Syria ‘chemical attack’

April 6, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Maya Gebeily | Syrian children receive treatment in the town of Maaret al-Noman, following a suspected chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – 

Western powers pushed ahead Thursday with efforts to take action over the suspected chemical attack in Syria after US President Donald Trump warned the “affront to humanity” would not go unanswered.

France said it was determined to pursue a UN Security Council resolution to investigate dozens of civilian deaths in a northwestern Syria town, which Turkey blamed Thursday on a “chemical attack” by the Damascus government.

President Bashar al-Assad’s army has categorically denied that it used chemical weapons on Khan Sheikhun, and its ally Russia said “toxic substances” may have been released when Syrian troops struck a “terrorist warehouse”.

At least 86 people were killed early on Tuesday in the rebel-held town, and dozens more have received treatment for convulsions, breathing problems and foaming at the mouth.

An AFP correspondent in Khan Sheikhun on Wednesday said the town was reeling, with dead animals lying in the streets and residents still shell-shocked after watching their entire families die.

“Nineteen members of my family were killed,” 28-year-old Abdulhamid said in the town, surrounded by mourning relatives.

“We put some masks on but it didn’t do anything… People just started falling to the ground,” said Abdulhamid, who lost his twin children and wife in the attack.

Ankara said autopsies of three people transferred to Turkish hospitals confirmed that chemical weapons had been used.

– ‘Must not go unpunished’ –

“This scientific investigation also confirms that Assad used chemical weapons,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told Turkish state media.

After an emergency session of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Western diplomats are expected to push for a vote as early as Thursday on a resolution demanding an investigation of the suspected attack.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the resolution, presented by Britain, France and the United States, remained a priority.

“These crimes must not go unpunished,” Ayrault told CNEWS television.

“It’s difficult because up to now every time we have presented a resolution, there has been a veto by Russia and sometimes by China… but we must cooperate because we need to stop this massacre,” he added.

If confirmed as an attack, it would be among the worst incidents of chemical weapons use in Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 320,000 people since it began in March 2011.

It has also prompted an about-face from Trump, who in 2013 urged then-president Barack Obama not to intervene against Assad after a major suspected chemical attack.

Senior US officials had also recently suggested it was no longer a priority that Assad be removed from power.

“I will tell you, it’s already happened, that my attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much,” Trump told reporters at a joint White House news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

“It crossed a lot of lines for me,” he said, alluding to Obama’s failure to enforce his own 2013 “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Trump did not go into detail about what any US response would be, and he has previously opposed deeper US military involvement in Syria’s civil war.

As she held up pictures of lifeless children at the UN on Wednesday, US ambassador Nikki Haley warned of unilateral action if the UN failed “in its duty to act collectively.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is due in Moscow next week, told reporters there was “no doubt” that Assad’s government was responsible for the attack.

“And we think it is time for the Russians to really think carefully about their continuing support for the Assad regime.”

– ‘Gas so lethal’ –

The draft resolution backs a probe by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and demands Syria provide information on its operations.

British ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft told reporters he hoped council members would agree on a draft resolution by Thursday, but vowed to press for a vote regardless.

Failure to agree on a compromise text could prompt Russia to use its veto to block the draft resolution, which Moscow has done seven times to shield Syria.

Russia turned up at negotiations with a rival draft resolution that made no reference to specific demands that Damascus cooperate with an inquiry, diplomats said.

Syria officially relinquished its chemical arsenal and signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 to avert military action after it was accused of an attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds.

But there have been repeated allegations of chemical weapons use since.

Doctors said victims showed symptoms consistent with the use of a nerve agent such as sarin — suspected to have been used by government forces in the 2013 attacks.

US officials have not said what kind of agent they think was used, but Trump said it was “a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was.”

by Maya Gebeily
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Obama Legacy? — Warplanes mount fresh airstrikes in Idlib area, Syria, as follow-up to chemical weapons attacks — Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad Says He Deserved The Nobel Peace Prize More Than The OPCW — Russia has sided with Assad throughout

April 5, 2017

Reuters

Wed Apr 5, 2017 | 2:40am EDT

Warplanes mount fresh airstrikes in Idlib area, Syria, as follow-up to chemical weapons attacks — Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad Says He Deserved The Nobel Peace Prize More Than The OPCW — Russia has sided with Assad throughout

“Will anyone care? Who will stop it?”

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Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on 4 April (AFP/Getty Images)
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Warplanes mounted five air strikes on Wednesday in a rebel-held area of northwestern Syria where dozens of people were killed the day before in a suspected chemical attack, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The Syrian army could not immediately be reached for comment on the reported air strikes in town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on Wednesday. An Observatory report did not identify the warplanes.

The United States has blamed the chemical attack on Syrian government forces. The army has denied any role.

Russia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday that poisonous gas contamination in the area was the result of gas leaking from a rebel chemical weapons depot after it was hit by Syrian government air strikes.

The Observatory said the chemical attack was carried out by warplanes believed to belong to the Syrian military.

(Writing by Tom Perry. Editing by Jane Merriman)

Related:

From 2014:

From 2013:

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad heads the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling al-Baath party, in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA July 8, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad heads the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling al-Baath party, in Damascus in this handout photograph distributed by Syria’s national news agency SANA July 8, 2013.  Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout via Reuters