Destruction of Syrian chemical weapons a ‘milestone’ but more can be done – UN watchdog to RT

The Syrian government has reached a milestone by meeting its “extremely important” November 1 deadline for the destruction of its listed chemical weapons and mixing and filling facilities, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told RT.

Syrian authorities “functionally destroyed the critical equipment which is needed to run their chemical weapons production facilities. All of that has now been rendered inoperable,” Michael Luhan, spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told RT on Thursday.  

This was an extremely important deadline and a milestone that we’ve reached,” he added.

OPCW experts have so far visited 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across Syria. The two remaining facilities are currently too dangerous to visit due to military action between government forces and Islamist rebels.

According to the watchdog, chemical equipment from the unvisited facilities was moved to sites where the inspections were performed.

Syria also complied with another target date by submitting “the initial declaration of their entire program and its components as well as their general plan for destruction” to the OPCW last week, Luhan said.

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) leaves a hotel in Damascus, on October 9, 2013.(AFP Photom / Louai Beshara)

The next step in the disarmament process is the elimination of Assad’s chemical stockpile, which must be completed by June 30, 2014.

The plan to “irreversibly destroy” the entire weapons program and all related materials must be approved by the OPCW’s executive council by November 15, the spokesman stressed.

Assad’s government agreed to give up its chemical arsenals as part of the US-Russia brokered deal which prevented Washington from using military force against Syria.

Despite failing to provide any proof that Assad’s government was behind the August 21 chemical attack in a Damascus suburb, the US said that Syrian authorities must be punished for staging the sarin gas attack, which left hundreds dead.

The Syrian government, which has denied all accusations, has provided “all of the cooperation…that has been required for us to conduct our verification activities,” Luhan said.

He also praised the “the invaluable support that we [OPCW inspectors] have received from the UN mission in Damascus, without which we can’t operate the country. It’s the United Nations that has been looking after the safety and security of our inspectors, together with the senior government, and which has enabled us to register this achievement.”

He went on to commend the work of the OPCW for the progress it has made.

There was a lot of skepticism that we would be able to reach the point that we’ve reached today of putting out of commission those chemical weapons production facilities and mixing and filling plants. So, we’re doing a lot better than a lot of people would’ve expected in the outset,” he said.

Luhan stressed the importance of waiting until the November 15 decision, as “right now it’s a little bit early to speculate on the arrangements that are going to be made to get on with the destruction of the stockpile.”

He said that he has not excluded the possibility that “some of the stockpile may have to be moved out of the country to a safer location where it can be destroyed using incineration or hydrolyzation, a method that’s used to destroy chemical weapons agents.”

But we’re not there yet,” he added.

Syria’s civil war, which has been raging since March 2011, has claimed the lives of over 100,000 people, according to a recent UN estimate.