Syria chemical weapons inspections to start by Oct 1
THE HAGUE, The Netherlands (UPDATED) – International inspectors will get to work eradicating Syria's chemical arsenal by next week, once the world's chemical weapons watchdog approves a US-Russian roadmap drawn up to avert military strikes.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' (OPCW) Executive Council will meet at 2000 GMT (4 am on Saturday, September 28 Manila time) in The Hague to discuss the draft, which will be incorporated in a UN Security Council resolution expected to be passed swiftly afterwards.
The chemical weapons deal is the biggest diplomatic achievement on Syria after more than 2 years of a bitter civil war that the UN says has killed more than 100,000 people.
Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons as part of a US-Russian agreement struck earlier this month, worked out as Washington threatened military action in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus it blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The 41-member OPCW Executive Council usually takes decisions by consensus, or they require a two-thirds majority vote to pass.
A diplomatic source told AFP it was too early to say if there was consensus.
Besides weapons locations declared by Damascus as part of the Russia-US deal, inspectors will also be able to visit "any other site identified by a State Party as having been involved in the Syrian chemical weapons programme," says the draft document seen by AFP.
It also says the OPCW will start inspections no later than October 1.
Syria is reported to have around 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, including 300 metric tons of sulphur mustard.
In case of non-compliance with the plan, which sees all Syrian chemical weapons and facilities destroyed by mid-2014, the OPCW will discuss the allegation and then take it to the UN Security Council and General Assembly.
Setting 'destruction milestones'
All Syrian chemical weapons facilities must be inspected no later than 30 days after the document is adopted, the draft says.
The OPCW Executive Council is to decide on "intermediate destruction milestones" by November 15, it says, calling also on Syria to provide "immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites."
Damascus is also required to designate a liaison official for the OPCW with the authority to ensure the disarmament mission is completed.
Friday's OPCW meeting comes after the US and Russia on Thursday agreed a draft UN Security Council resolution on Syria's chemical weapons, breaking a prolonged deadlock.
The 15-member Security Council is to vote on the resolution on Friday, after the OPCW meeting.
The UN text says the Security Council "decides in event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorised transfer of chemical weapons or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter."
It says the Security Council can consider measures if the OPCW or UN leader Ban Ki-moon report a breach of the Russia-US disarmament plan.
Chapter VII can allow sanctions or military force. But there would have to be a new vote and diplomats predicted tough talks to persuade Russia, a key Assad ally, not to use its veto again.
Damascus has signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the OPCW enforces, and Syria will officially join the body on October 14.
Syria is likely to send an observer to the OPCW's Executive Council meeting.
The OPCW document called on member countries "to provide voluntary contributions" to finance the mission, which Assad has said could cost $1 billion dollars.
A confidential US and Russian assessment of Syria's stockpile said its chemical agents are largely "unweaponised" and could be eradicated more quickly than initially thought, the Washington Post reported.
The report said American and Russian officials now believe Syria's entire arsenal could be dismantled within the nine-month timeframe laid out in the OPCW document.
The UN has a separate mission currently in Syria to probe alleged chemical weapons attacks other than the August 21 one.
The UN said on Friday that the mission would finish its work on the ground on Monday, hoping to produce a comprehensive report on its finding by late October.
In Geneva, the UN's top human rights body on Friday condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
The 47-member Human Rights Council overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution that "strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons in Syria, which is prohibited under international law, amounts to a serious crime and has a devastating impact on civilians." – Rappler.com
READ MORE: The Crisis in Syria