Watchdog demands Syria explain chemical arsenal

OPCW pressing Syria to explain why it still has four undeclared chemical warfare agents.

Ben Ariel ,

UN chemical weapons experts in Syria
UN chemical weapons experts in Syria

The world's chemical weapons watchdog is pressing Syria to explain why it has four undeclared warfare agents, its head said Wednesday, after an American official accused Damascus of continuing to hoard a toxic stockpile, AFP reported.

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) chief Ahmet Uzumcu said that despite previous declarations by Syria, OPCW teams have found indications of five additional chemical agents.

After recent consultations with The Hague-based OPCW's secretariat, Syria "declared research and development of one more chemical agent," Uzumcu said in a report released last week, of which AFP was given a copy on Wednesday.

But "at present, Syria has not yet adequately explained the presence of indicators of four chemical warfare agents," Uzumcu said.

The OPCW chief added that "new information" offered by Damascus has failed to resolve outstanding issues on Syria's chemical warfare program.

"In many instances, such new information presents a considerable change in narrative... from previous information -- or raises new questions," Uzumcu said, according to AFP.

Uzumucu said the OPCW's secretariat believed if Syria's effort continued "without a change in approach" its declaration "is unlikely to yield concrete results."

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Moscow and Washington, but the OPCW has since found chlorine has been "systematically and repeatedly" used as a weapon.

Government and opposition forces have denied using chlorine and have accused each other of doing so.

The government argues that claims that it used chemical weapons are only meant to " serve political agendas".

The removal of the chemical weapons in 2013 was the result of an historic deal that averted threatened American air strikes against Damascus after a sarin gas in August that year on rebel-held areas near Damascus that was blamed by the West and the opposition on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's regime.

But on Tuesday, the U.S. permanent representative to the OPCW voiced frustration with Syria's perceived lack of cooperation in the process to verify its chemical arsenal.

Kenneth Ward said the OPCW's latest findings were "indicative of (the) production, weaponization and storage of chemical warfare agent by the Syrian military."

This "has never been acknowledged by the Syrian government," Ward said in an address at OPCW, obtained by AFP on Wednesday.

"We therefore remain very concerned that chemical warfare agent and associated munitions, subject to declaration and destruction, have been illicitly retained by Syria," he said.

In January, the OPCW announced that all Syria's declared chemical arms had been completely destroyed, despite concerns that sarin gas and other chemical weapons were still being unleashed in the country's complex civil war that has so far killed more than 280,000 people.

Ward, in a strongly-worded statement, said there was a "body of evidence indicating that Syria never truly accepted the obligations or ideals of the Chemical Warfare Convention."

"For more than two years, the (OPCW's) Secretariat and Council provided Syria with an opportunity to instill international confidence that it had renounced chemical weapons," said Ward, according to AFP.

"Syria has not only squandered that opportunity, it has cynically exploited it," he charged.