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Inside Story

Will Syria give up its chemical weapons?

As Obama considers Russia's non-military proposal for Syria, we ask if a diplomatic solution is still feasible.

Last Modified: 11 Sep 2013 10:08
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The US had been accused of 'rushing to war' against Syria, but an off-the-cuff statement by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has spurred a possible breakthrough in the Syrian chemical weapons debate.

"He [Bashar al-Assad] can turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it without delay and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done obviously," Kerry said.

One of the first things that would need to be done is of course that the Syrian government declares its stockpiles … like it happened in the past, 20 years ago, [in] Iraq … So this declaration needs to be put forward, and based upon this declaration then [a] planning process within the UN for an inspection, with the first aim of inventorying the stockpile can start.

Dieter Rothbacher, operations director at Hotzone solutions 

His suggestion that Damascus should give up its chemical weapons has been embraced by Russia and welcomed in Syria, and France says it will now put a proposal to the UN Security Council. 

Russia seized upon the idea, proposing that Syria's chemical weapons are placed under international control and then destroyed.
 
"We are currently working to prepare a workable, precise and concrete plan with the Syrian side. We are hoping to present this plan soon and we will be ready to work on it with the UN secretary general, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and members of the UN Security Council," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared. 

That declaration led to the following statement from the French foreign minister, setting out the terms of a draft resolution to be submitted to the UN Security Council.

"Firstly, to condemn the August 21 massacre committed by the Syrian regime. Secondly, to demand from this regime to bring fully to light its chemical weapons programme, place it under international control and dismantle it. To outline very serious consequences in the case of Syria's violation of its obligations. Finally, for the perpetrators of the August 21 massacre to be sanctioned in front of the International Criminal Court."

Such a plan would possibly avert the need for a military intervention but questions are being raised about just how Syria would be expected to hand over its weapons of mass destruction - a monumantal task even in times of peace.

Syria is one of the few countries that have not to ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention. This requires signatories to 'exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons'.

Syria is said to have started its chemical weapons programme in the 1970s, helped first by Egypt, then the Soviet Union, but it was not until July last year that it publicly acknowledged possessing weapons of mass destruction.

This first step ... can be very, very tricky and that's the basis on which inspectors must work. I don't think Assad's government is going to tell the truth here.

Amy Smithson, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies

A foreign ministry spokesman stressed at the time: "No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used, and I repeat, will never be used, during the crisis in Syria no matter what the developments inside Syria."
 
A French intelligence report released earlier this month said Syria had one of the biggest operational stocks of chemical weapons.

This is said to include more than 1,000 tonnes of sarin and mustard gas and neurotoxic agents - gases which attack the respiratory and nervous system and can be fatal within minutes of contact.

So, will Syria fully hand over its chemical weapons? And is this a feasible solution for the world and the US?

Inside Story, with presenter Dareen Abughaida, is joined by guests: Amy Smithson, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies; Dieter Rothbacher, the operations director at Hotzone solutions who helped train UN chemical weapons inspectors in Syria; and Elliot Ackerman, a military analyst and founder of the Syria Research and Evaluation Organization. 

"It seems today that there are some developments. For instance the Syrian foreign minister has said that they are willing to open up the book … on their chemical weapons programme. And then the rhetoric you see out of Washington, DC is a bit of skepticism. However, I think all sides think probably that this is something that is worth pursuing, having the Syrians declare their chemical weapons and let in the inspectors."

Elliot Ackerman, a military analyst and founder of the Syria Research and Evaluation Organization

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Al Jazeera
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