Experts from the United States and Russia estimate that it may take only nine months to destroy Syria's entire chemical weapons arsenal, according to a report by the Washington Post.
The majority of Syria's stockpile consists of “unweaponized” liquid precursors which can be neutralized relatively quickly, lowering the risk that the toxins could be hidden away by the regime or stolen by terrorists.
The confidential assessment made by the U.S. and Russia stated that it will take about nine months to destroy Syria’s entire arsenal if Syrian officials honor their promise to relinquish control over their chemical assets to international inspectors.
It was reported on Wednesday that UN chemical weapons inspectors returned to Syria to continue investigating allegations of chemical weapons use in the country’s two-and-a-half-year conflict. The UN team previously submitted a report which confirmed the use of sarin nerve agent in an August 21 poison gas attack outside the Syrian capital.
At the time of the August 21 attack, the inspectors had been in Damascus preparing to investigate three earlier cases of suspected chemical weapons use, including one in March in the northern town of Khan al-Assal. Ake Sellstrom, the head of the inspection team, said last week the inspectors would return to Syria to investigate the other suspected cases.
Assessment Brings Hope
Analysts concluded that Syria possesses more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, of which the majority are not ready for use, weapons experts told White House officials in a private briefing.
In military weapons programs, two chemical precursors for the nerve agent sarin are blended using special equipment as the toxins are loaded into rockets, bombs or artillery shells. Experts say it is far easier to destroy precursor chemicals than battlefield-ready liquid sarin or warheads already loaded with the toxin.
Michael Kuhlman, the chief scientist in the national security division at Battelle global research organization, said, “If the vast majority of it consists of precursors in bulk form, that is very good news. Now you’re dealing with tanks of chemicals that are corrosive and dangerous, but not nerve agents. And the destruction processes for those chemicals are well in hand.”
Both the U.S. and Russia have expressed optimism that Syria will comply with U.N. demands to surrender its chemical weapons.