Syria maintains an ability to deploy chemical weapons beyond its officially declared stockpiles, according to diplomats interviewed by Reuters. The diplomats cited intelligence from Britain, France and the United States.
The verification and destruction of Syria’s poison gas arsenal has been overseen by a joint team of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global chemical arms watchdog.
Diplomats say Western governments have long suspected Syria did not declare all aspects of its chemical arms program, but have kept silent on the issue to avoid giving Syrian President Assad an excuse to curtail cooperation with the U.N.-OPCW mission and slow down an already delayed timetable for shipping toxins out of the country.
With more than 90 percent of Syria’s declared chemical stockpiles now out of the country, Western officials have started to break their silence.
“We are convinced, and we have some intelligence showing, that they have not declared everything,” a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.
When asked how much of its program Syria has kept hidden, the diplomat said: “It’s substantial.” He offered no further details.
Another Western official told Reuters that the three Western powers agreed that there is a “high level of probability” that Syria deliberately under-reported the full extent of its chemical arms-related stockpiles.
He cited examples of large batch of a sarin precursor chemical going missing in Syria, Damascus’ unverified claims to have destroyed most of its mustard gas stocks before the U.N.-OPCW mission arrived in the country and other anomalies.
The chemicals of concern include deadly nerve agent ricin, mustard gas, precursor chemicals used to make sarin, and, more recently, the use of chlorine gas in Syria.
Suspicions that Syria’s declaration was incomplete deepened when it did not report to the OPCW having sarin, which was used in the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, or the type of rockets used to deliver an estimated 300 liters of the toxin.
Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari dismissed the charge.
“These countries aren’t really reliable and their policies towards the implementation of the agreement between the Syrian government and the OPCW aren’t principled but rather childish,” he said.
“If they have some evidence they must share it with the OPCW rather than pretending to have secret evidence!”
Ja’afari said the three Western powers’ goal was to needlessly extend the U.N.-OPCW mission by “keeping the ‘chemical file’ open indefinitely so that they can keep exerting pressure and blackmailing the Syrian government.”