Syrian govt ‘quite cooperative’ as inspectors begin checks at 20 chemical sites

Syrian govt ‘quite cooperative’ as inspectors begin checks at 20 chemical sites
The Syrian government has been “quite cooperative” in the early stages of the destruction of its poison gas stockpiles, global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW said, adding that its experts would need to check some weapons 20 sites in the country.

“The cooperation has been quite constructive and I would say the Syrian authorities have been cooperative," Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told reporters in The Hague.  

International experts from the United Nations and OPCW have so far visited one chemical facility in Syria and are just about to examine another one, he said, with the country making “a constructive beginning for what will nonetheless be a long and difficult process.”

The mission will have to check about 20 sites in the coming days and weeks, with the organization planning to negotiate a ceasefire in some areas “to permit our experts to work in a permissive environment,” Uzumcu said.

The OPCW chief described the plan to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons by mid-2014 as "realistic," as long as it receives the necessary support from all sides of the conflict and the international community.

Another group of 12 international experts is preparing to leave for Syria to speed up the process. They must arrive in the country “as soon as possible,” Uzumcu said.

There are currently 19 inspectors from the joint UN-OPCW mission working in Syria, where the civil war between the government and Islamist rebels has been raging since March 2011, claiming more than 100,000 lives.

Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Director General Ahmet Uzumcu speaks during a news conference in The Hague, October 9, 2013.(Reuters / Toussaint Kluiters)
The government of President Bashar Assad in Damascus submitted a declaration of its chemical weapons arsenal to the OPCW in September. Uzumcu said that his organization so far has not received any requests from member states to perform inspection at facilities not mentioned by the Assad government.

The information on Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal hasn’t been made public, but chemical weapons experts believe that the Middle Eastern country possesses around 1,000 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve gas.

According to the US-Russian deal brokered in Geneva last month, Syria has until November to destroy chemical weapons production facilities and weapons-filling equipment, with its entire chemical weapons program to be completed by June 30, 2014.

The Syrian government began destroying the first chemical weapons last week, with OPCW experts labeling the actions from the country’s authorities “an excellent start.”