Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Assad submits chemical weapons list Amid U.S.-Russia tension

Syria disclosed an initial inventory of its chemical weapons, the first step in an agreement between the Obama administration and Russia that averted a U.S. strike on the Arab country.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has “received an initial disclosure from the Syrian government of its chemical-weapons program, which is now being examined by the technical secretariat of the organization,” according to a statement today by the Netherlands-based organization.

The move comes as the U.S., France and the U.K. push for the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution next week that would compel Syria to surrender its chemical arms. Diplomats want Syria to comply with an accord reached between the U.S. and Russia on Sept. 14, which set a timetable for President Bashar al-Assad to declare, secure and then eliminate his entire chemical arsenal.

Efforts to agree on a UN resolution encountered headwinds from Russia, which opposes any measure that alludes to a threat of force. Russia is also resisting any attempt to assign blame to Assad’s regime for an Aug. 21 chemical attack that the U.S. says killed 1,400 people, including more than 400 children.

The timetable has begun slipping. The Executive Council of the chemical weapons organization in The Hague, which would oversee Syria’s chemicals disarmament, said today it has postponed a Sept. 22 meeting on Syria, aiming for a new date in the middle of next week.

Russian Ties

Russia has had close ties with Syria since Assad’s father Hafez al-Assad took power in a coup in 1970. Russia has been a major arms provider to the regime and maintains its only military base outside the former Soviet Union at Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Washington that he pressed for a “firm and strong” UN resolution in a “fairly long conversation” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today.

Assad is likely to comply until he obtains a UN resolution that doesn’t threaten force against his regime, said Firas Abi Ali, a London-based Middle East analyst at research firm IHS.

“Then you’ll start seeing delaying tactics as part of the technical process,” he said by phone. “For now, while there is a credible threat of force being used against them, they are going to try and appear very reasonable.”

Oil Prices

With the threat of military action receding, West Texas Intermediate crude fell for the fifth time in six days. WTI crude for October delivery, which expires today, slid 0.8 percent to $105.59 a barrel as of 4:45 p.m. London time.

In an interview that aired Sept. 18 on Fox News, Assad said his regime will fully abide by the convention banning chemical weapons and won’t impose conditions. Syria’s government is willing to discuss with international organizations the timeline for destroying its stockpiles, Assad said, adding that some experts estimate it would take a year to eliminate all of them.

In an indication of the challenge, a U.S. stockpile of munitions armed with the same type of nerve gas used in Syria last month is still stored in concrete bunkers at an Army depot in Kentucky 30 years after the U.S. government promised to destroy it.

Once a plan is in place for Syria, UN member states will need to help carry it out because the world body and the chemical weapons organization lack the resources do so on their own.

International Inspectors

The OPCW has only about 70 inspectors to visit an estimated 45 to 50 chemical weapons sites in Syria, and countries such as the Czech Republic, Japan and Russia with expertise in disarming chemical weapons would have to provide support, said a UN diplomat who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Assad’s government is ready to call for a cease-fire at proposed peace talks in Geneva, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper said, citing an interview with the nation’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil. The daily quoted Jamil as saying neither side to the conflict was capable of “defeating the other.” Jamil’s Popular Will Party said later his comments were taken out of context, according to the state-run Sana news agency.

Opposition leaders have insisted that Assad must quit as part of any political settlement.

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