Situation in Syria: five key points. Part 4-5

27.09.2013

In the context of Syrian chemical weapons we will not be able to avoid talking about the Geneva-2 talks. The subject of the Geneva-2 talks has been popping up sporadically. Some have probably forgotten about them altogether, assuming that Geneva-2 has already taken place in the form of the Lavrov-Kerry bilateral meeting. I would remind you that the idea of Geneva-2 is to hold multilateral discussions aimed at stopping the civil war, bloodshed and suffering of Syria’s civilian population, and seeking a political settlement. I cannot imagine how the process of scrapping chemical weapons can be accomplished in Syria without stopping the civil war and reaching a political settlement. The terrorist gangs which are now fighting against Assad must in no way interpret Assad’s readiness to scrap chemical weapons as a signal that they can now get away with anything they like. On the contrary, I think they should be sent a clear message that they will not be allowed to get away with acts of provocation, such as the use of chemical weapons in order to topple the Assad regime.

And finally, the last point. This concerns bilateral Russian-Syrian discussions, which, as I understand it, are being conducted in a fairly frank climate. As a representative of an institution which for the past two decades has been dealing with the problem of WMD, including WMD in the Middle East, I cannot but welcome the readiness expressed by Syria to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and to carry out a gradual, but dynamic, process of destroying the stockpiles of chemical weapons on its territory.

On the one hand, Syria was not obliged to do this, simply because several other countries in that region, Israel in particular, are not members of other nonproliferation agreements. Israel has nuclear weapons.

But it would be fair to say that Syria’s chemical weapons are not an effective deterrent against Israel. It makes no military sense for the Syrian regime to have chemical weapons. In actual fact, these weapons constitute a risk, rather than strengthen Syria’s security. That’s why I believe Syria has made the right, sensible and timely decision, which must certainly be implemented. But in the course of the talks now being conducted by our diplomats in Damascus in a very dynamic and fast-moving mode, some on-going issues must be clarified. In particular, as I understand, Syria should declare all its chemical facilities by this Saturday. Here on this map we can see what we already know. Perhaps, not everything is shown here. My understanding is that Syria is ready for this, it has prepared documents. But let’s be clear about it – Syria must declare its facilities in order to have them destroyed under international supervision. Syria is not doing this so that terrorist gangs or the so-called armed opposition could learn about such facilities, and then use them for further acts of provocation, or to gain access to those sites and disrupt the process.

In this regard, it is crucial to provide proper physical protection of all the declared facilities, as well as to ensure proper accounting and control for all chemical materials until their complete destruction. And as an expert, I have an issue with this, even though it is not a subject of our conference. The question is whether Syria has the capability to provide physical protection for all these sites amid the ongoing civil war, so that Russia, America, France and people in the region, including the Israelis, can be sure that these weapons will not disappear, get stolen, or somehow fall into the hands of terrorists. It may well be that unprecedented international efforts – and I stress, international efforts will be required to destroy those weapons.

I think that Syria will not have much time to declare these weapons and ensure proper controls over them. These facilities need to be sealed off, as is the practice in peace time, and after that a system of controls, destruction and possibly removal of these weapons from Syria should be worked out using international structures such as the OPCW, and involving the UN Security Council in this process. It remains to be seen whether these weapons can be destroyed in Syria itself, or whether they will have to be removed from the country and destroyed at some international facilities. This is a very serious matter. My colleagues in PIR Center believe that, bearing in mind the nature of chemical weapons, this would be a very complex process, and it would be better to carry it out in Syria, rather than transport the weapons somewhere else. This view has already been expressed by PIR Center Senior Vice President, Lt. Gen. Evgeny Buzhinsky in an interview with RIA-Novosti.

Other experts express other opinions. They say that under certain circumstances, these weapons could be removed from Syria – for example, to Russia. Russia has the facilities for scrapping chemical weapons; they are still being used to destroy out own weapons. So far, this option is not being actively discussed, but I would like to mention it. If you look at the map and see the territories around Syria, I would like to draw your attention to Albania. The country had a small stockpile of chemical weapons (16 tonnes, if I am not mistaken), which, with the help of international programs of cooperation - in particular, the Global Partnership program - was scrapped in that country with the technical and financial assistance from other countries, including European ones (Germany and Switzerland). This is an interesting example, bearing in mind that Albania is now a NATO member. NATO countries could make a contribution if Syrian weapons were to be destroyed there. And perhaps, they would also sleep better as a result. I am mentioning this merely as a theoretical possibility. I am not yet ready to make any conclusive recommendations here.

As for the financing of this process, I think this is the only issue which does not present any serious problems, because Germany has already offered funds to finance the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria. There are various international mechanisms, including the G8 and a number of affiliated states, as well as the so-called Global Partnership against proliferation, which includes countries outside the G8, such as the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland.

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