Syria Has to Open Up Its Chemical Weapons Sites By Tuesday

Syria Has to Open Up Its Chemical Weapons Sites By Tuesday

The Syrian government is required to provide international chemical weapons inspectors "immediate and unfettered" access to any site in Syria starting Oct. 1 and complete the destruction of its chemical weapons production and mixing equipment by Nov. 1, according to a decision to be voted Friday afternoon by the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The arrangements and timetables are part of a U.S.-Russian proposal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program by the middle of 2014. The U.N. Security Council is expected to endorse the technical procedures on Friday night.

The deal marks the culmination of several days of intensive negotiation between Washington and Moscow over the details of a chemical weapons inspection. It sets the stage for a dramatic scene in the U.N. Security Council, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will cast their vote on the first major Security Council resolution to be adopted by the Security Council following more than two years of violence in Syria.

Under the terms of the deal, Syria is required to provide the Hague-based disarmament agency with a complete list of all chemicals, precursors, toxins, and munitions in its chemical weapons stockpiles within seven days. In addition, Syria has a week to provide the agency with "the location of all of its chemical weapons, chemical weapons storage facilities, chemical weapons production facilities, including mixing and filling facilities, and chemical weapons research and development facilities, providing specific geographic coordinates." Syria must allow international inspectors to visit locations where those materials are contained within 30 days.

The OPCW’s council is scheduled to produce by Nov. 15 a timeline that details a series of disarmament milestones that Syria will be required to meet in order to "complete the elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of 2014."

The arrangements were finalized as a separate team of U.N. weapons inspectors are finalizing investigations into seven incidents where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used in Syria. Those include three strikes that allegedly occurred after the massive Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs that triggered worldwide outrage and led to the deal for Syria to give up its chemical stockpile.

The inspectors, who began their second fact-finding mission to Syria on Wednesday, are scheduled to leave Syria on Monday and present a final, comprehensive report on their findings to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by the end of October.

The U.N. team, which is led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, is operating under a mandate that’s separate from a new U.N. inspection team that the U.N. Security Council is expected to mandate tonight to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons.

"Since its return to Syria on 25 September, the mission under professor Ake Sellstrom has been able to resume its fact-finding activities related to all pending credible allegations of the use of chemical weapons," said the U.N.’s chief spokesman, Martin Nesirky.

Sellstrom’s team has already produced a report proving definitively that the nerve agent sarin was used in the Aug. 21 attack — and providing compelling circumstantial evidence implicating Syrian forces in launching the strike. But Syria and its key U.N. patron, Russia, have challenged those claims, saying that the rebels carried out the attack.

The team is examining American claims that President Bashar al-Assad’s government used chemical weapons in an April 13 attack in the town of Sheikh Maqsud, as well as British and French assertions that the Syrian regime used a nerve agent in the town of Saraqeb on April 29.

The other sites under investigation include four towns where Syria claims to have been targeted with nerve agent by rebels, including Khan al-Assal, a village on the outskirts of Aleppo where Syrian troops were exposed to a toxic agent. Syrian, Russian, and European officials all agree that Syrian forces were exposed to poison gas in Khan al-Assal, but British and French authorities claim that they were caught in a friendly fire incident.

The Syria government claims that Syrian rebels also fired chemical weapons against Syrian authorities outside Damascus in the villages of Bahariye on Aug. 22, Jobar on Aug. 24, and Sahnaya on Aug. 25.

Follow me on Twitter: @columlynch