U.S. Fears Syria May Hide Some Chemical Weapons
The United States is looking at new classified intelligence indicating that the Syrian government may not fully declare its chemical weapons stockpile, CNN reported on Tuesday.
This would mean that Syria will still have a secret cache of chemical weapons even after the current agreed-upon destruction effort is carried out.
The intelligence is not definitive but “there are various threads of information that would shake our confidence,” one U.S. official told the American news network.
“They have done things recently that suggest Syria is not ready to get rid of all their chemical weapons,” according to the official.
CNN has spoken to several U.S. officials with access to the latest intelligence on Syria, who confirmed the information. All declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the data.
U.S. intelligence agencies, the Defense Department, the State Department and White House are all reviewing the information, according to the network.
One official cautioned there is not yet a definitive U.S. conclusion about Syrian intentions based on this intelligence, but there is an effort to gather corroborating information and better understand what the regime may be up to.
There is agreement among U.S. officials that Syria’s official declarations to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have been made largely in good faith after the threat of military action by the United States for Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.
The United States believes Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad understands not to do that again.
National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan issued a statement Tuesday evening saying, "We continue to review and assess the completeness and accuracy of Syria's declaration to the OPCW. However, in accordance with OPCW regulations, Syria's declaration is confidential, and we will not publicly discuss its details or our assessment of it. For further details, we would refer you to the OPCW."
Officials told CNN the new intelligence is related to stockpile inventories and delivery systems, such as warheads and artillery shells - items that could preserve Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons again if it chose to.
Officials believe Assad will hold on to some of the chemical weapons largely as a long-term hedge against what he sees as a threat from Israel, according to CNN.
“It strains credulity,” one official said, to believe Assad will readily give up his entire chemical weapons program.
Officials would not say exactly how the latest intelligence was collected, but CNN noted that much of U.S. intelligence about Syria comes from satellite imagery. Also, there have been communications intercepts in the past that have given the United States clues about the intentions of the Syrian leadership.
Last week, the OPCW indicated that Syria had destroyed all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities.
OPCW teams have inspected 21 of Syria’s 23 chemical weapons site. The remaining two sites are deemed too dangerous to inspect due to fighting in the area, but equipment at those two sites has been moved elsewhere and inspected there, the agency said.
The group is now moving to “phase 3” of a plan to demolish all of Syria’s chemical weapons. The third stage is to destroy the weapons themselves.
Norway had considered a U.S. request that the Scandinavian country take some of the chemical weapons inventory for destruction. Last month, however, that country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it rejected the plan due to “time constraints and external factors” such as regulatory requirements.
A former Syrian general has warned that Assad prepared for the chemical weapons crackdown in advance by hiding his weapons stockpile with the Lebanese group Hezbollah, a close ally.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently suggested that Syria's chemical weapons could be consolidated and moved out of the country.