Official Praises Progress in Eliminating Syrian Chem Weapons
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2013 A senior administration official praised the United Nations effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons and said the United States will continue to support the effort.
In a White House blog post, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall -- the White House coordinator for defense policy, countering weapons of mass destruction, and arms control -- praised the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for its work in Syria. The U.N. group announced Oct. 31 that it is confident Syria cannot produce new chemical weapons.
Just a few months ago, Sherwood-Randall wrote, Syria had one of the largest chemical weapons stockpiles in the world, one that included mustard gas and the sarin nerve agent. On Aug. 21, Bashar Assad’s regime used sarin gas on a civilian neighborhood, but the regime’s ability to use chemical weapons was only part of the problem, Sherwood-Randall said.
“Given the situation on the ground in Syria,” she wrote in her blog post, “this dangerous arsenal was at risk of capture by or transfer into the hands of extremists.”
The National Security Council staffer charted the process that led to the U.N. team working to control these weapons.
“In mid-September, we and Russia agreed to work together to ensure the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program in the fastest and safest manner possible,” she said. “Our joint commitment led to an historic United Nations Security Council resolution that legally bound Syria to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile under international supervision on a very fast timeline.”
The U.S. government has provided some of the tools these U.N. inspectors need to accomplish that mission, Sherwood-Randall said, adding that the world has recognized the incredible job these men and women are doing by awarding the organization the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize.
“The people behind the scenes are brave and dedicated, and so we applaud the OPCW and U.N. personnel who have taken great personal risks to get the job done,” she said. “They planned and conducted the inspection site visits, supervised the destruction process, and provided security and logistics to the inspectors.”
The United States has contributed $6 million of the $14 million earmarked for the mission. This includes direct financial assistance to the trust funds set up to support this project, as well as training, equipment, protective gear, logistical support, and medication for the inspection team, Sherwood-Randall said.
The mission continues and will require more money and resources.
“We are already laying the groundwork to provide substantial contributions to the destruction outside of Syria of Syria’s remaining 1,000 tons of chemical agent,” she said.
The United States has unique capabilities it can apply to the task, Sherwood-Randall said, “thanks to the leadership at our Department of Defense and the foresight and innovation of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.”
Also, she said, the United States is working with other countries that can provide additional capabilities and support.
“In the end,” she added, “Syria will be held accountable for the safe and swift elimination of its chemical weapons program.”
In a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Global Security Forum here yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel summed up the timeline and the Defense Department’s role.
"President [Barack] Obama's resolve to take military action to respond to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons helped create an opening for diplomacy with Russia -- which we pursued,” he said. “That led to a U.N. Security Council Resolution and to the involvement of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons inspectors on the ground in Syria working to oversee the removal and destruction of chemical weapons.
“We are on a course to eliminate one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world,” Hagel continued. “DOD has not only maintained military pressure on the Assad regime and will continue, it has also developed the technology that may very well be used to destroy these chemical weapons."
Andrew C. Weber, assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, said the Defense Department is looking ahead.
"With the successful destruction of Syria's capacity to produce chemical weapons, we are now focused on the critical next step of removing and eliminating the chemical agent stockpile," he said.