Obama won’t close Guantanamo Bay prison six years after he said he would. But Syrian President Bashar Assad destroyed his country’s chemical weapons production facilities a day ahead of schedule. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced Thursday that Syria’s “declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities had all been destroyed.”
Though it agreed to cease production of chemical weapons, Syria has yet to destroy its stockpile. An estimated 2.24 million pounds of chemicals, mustard gas and the deadly nerve agent sarin among them, remain at the government’s disposal.
Hundreds of people were killed near Damascus on 21 August in the deadliest chemical weapons incident since Saddam Hussein’s forces used poison gas in the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988. The US, Britain and France – and the Syrian opposition – all blamed the Syrian government, which denies responsibility and pointed the finger at the opposition.
Rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad say September’s US-Russian deal on chemical weapons – which averted the threat of US air strikes – has bolstered the government. Assad has said he will attend peace talks in Geneva but insists first on an end to all foreign support for the opposition, which is deeply divided over taking part.
David Reeths of IHS Jane’s Consulting, hailed a “significant milestone” and the OPCW’s achievement in a conflict zone where 100,000 people have been killed in two and a half years. But he warned that there was a “significant level of uncertainty” surrounding the true status of the Syrian chemical weapons programme because inspectors had been unable to visit two of declared weapons sites due to unacceptable levels of risk.