International inspectors failed to stop Syria from stockpiling chemical weapons, in spite of an international agreement in 2013, according to a new report by the Wall Street Journal on Friday. International inspectors were skeptical of Syria’s claims to have disposed of its stockpiles, but were afraid that reporting violations would destroy the overall deal: “Members of the inspection team didn’t push for answers, worried that it would compromise their primary objective of getting the regime to surrender the 1,300 tons of chemicals it admitted to having.”
After President Barack Obama failed to enforce his 2012 “red line” against dictator Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in the ongoing Syrian civil war, the U.S. agreed to a Russian-brokered agreement in Geneva that provided for the regime to ship its stockpiles abroad while international inspectors gained access to its production and storage facilities.
The Syrian regime, however, imposed harsh restrictions on UN inspectors. ““We had no choice but to cooperate with them,” Scott Cairns, one of the leaders of the UN inspections team, told the Journal.
Initially, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had reported that Syria’s declarations about its chemical weapons program matched its own assessments of what the regime possessed. However, the CIA turned out to have underestimated Syria’s capacity, the Journal reports.
The Syrian guards assigned to inspections convoys also drove slowly, failed to destroy chemical weapons when asked to do so, and appeared to be intermingled with Iranian soldiers who were guarding Syrian chemical weapons sites. As a result, Syria remains unaccountable.
The report comes as the Obama administration attempts to persuade Congress that the international inspections regime under a new deal with Iran will be sufficient to monitor that country’s nuclear program, including unknown nuclear facilities and military sites. Critics say that the inspections regime is not tough enough to allow proper verification of Iranian compliance. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee learned Thursday that UN inspectors may rely on the Iranian regime to provide environmental test samples from its own military sites.
In his State of the Union address in January 2014, President Barack Obama said: “American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated, and we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve–a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.
In a speech in September 2014 about ISIS, he said: “It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people–or the world–again.”