Syria: Report sent to ‘chemical attack police’

John Kerry: Talking to Russia about Syria's weapons. Picture: AP
John Kerry: Talking to Russia about Syria's weapons. Picture: AP
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An “initial declaration” outlining Syria’s weapons programme has been sent to the international body that polices chemical attacks, officials have said.

The report is a first tentative step towards hopes of restricting the actions of the Bashar al-Assad regime in the civil war which has devastated the country and killed more than 100,000 people since 2011.

Syria’s declaration is now “being reviewed by our verification division”, said Michael Luhan, of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

He added that the organisation would not release details of what was in the report.

United States officials said last week that the US and Russia agreed Syria had roughly 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons agents and precursors, including blister agents, such as sulphur and mustard gas, and nerve agents like sarin.

In the aftermath of the United Nations report, which concluded sarin had been used in an attack in Damascus last month, the OPCW, which polices the treaty outlawing chemical weapons, is looking at ways to fast-track moves to secure and destroy Syria’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents, as well as its production facilities.

However, diplomatic efforts to speed up the process are moving slowly.

A meeting initially scheduled for tomorrow, at which the organisation’s 41-nation executive council was to have discussed a US-Russian plan to rid Syria swiftly of chemical weapons was postponed again yesterday, with no new date was immediately set. No reason was given for the postponement.

Under an agreement brokered last weekend in Geneva, inspectors will be on the ground in Syria by November.

During that month, they will complete their initial assessment, and all mixing and filling equipment for chemical weapons is to be destroyed.

All components of the chemical weapons programme are to be removed from the country, or destroyed, by mid-2014.

The OPCW plan of action will be backed up by a UN Security Council resolution, and negotiations remain under way on the text of such a resolution.

US secretary of state John Kerry said he talked to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, about Syria’s chemical weapons early yesterday.

“I had a fairly long conversation with foreign minister Lavrov,” Mr Kerry said in Washington. “We talked about the cooperation which we both agreed to continue to provide, moving not only toward the adoption of the OPCW rules and regulations, but also a resolution that is firm and strong within the United Nations. We will continue to work on that.”

In an interview with an American news network, aired on Wednesday, president Assad blamed terrorists for the 21 August chemical attack, which the US says killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children.

He said evidence that terrorist groups had used sarin had been turned over to Russia and that Russia, through one of its satellites, had evidence that the rockets in the attack were launched from another area.

While the UN report did not say who was responsible for the attack, many experts interpreting the report said all indications were that it was conducted by Assad forces.