Video: Syria keeping remaining chemical weapons as leverage?

posted at 8:01 am on May 1, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

After Russia intervened in the dispute over chemical weapons in Syria and averted a Western strike on its client Bashar al-Assad, the matter has largely disappeared from the headlines. Late last month, however, rebels in Syria accused Assad of launching new chemical-weapons attacks on civilian populations. News reports of casualties have been accelerating, such as in this AP video:

Today, the Washington Post reports that Assad has retained 27 tons of sarin ingredients, hoping to use that as leverage:

The months-long effort to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program has ground to a halt because Syria is holding on to 27 tons of sarin precursor chemicals as leverage in a dispute with the international community over the future of facilities used to store the deadly agents, according to U.S. officials.

Having turned over all but an estimated 8 percent of its chemical arsenal to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Damascus missed a deadline Sunday to relinquish the remnants of its arsenal, which are stored in 16 containers in Damascus, U.S. officials said.

The OPCW is insisting that a network of tunnels and buildings that were used to store the weapons must be destroyed. The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has argued that the facilities should be repurposed.

“They’re just stalling for time to hold on to some of these facilities,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter who would discuss the issue only on the condition of anonymity. The official said he expects that Syria will ultimately give up the material.

In part, they’ll give it up because they have an alternative — chlorine. They’re using it now, which suggests that they may be doing so to increase their leverage over the status of their current facilities, too. The international community can’t do much about chlorine, and so far they’re not even willing to concede that Assad is actually using it:

A senior U.S. intelligence official said U.S. intelligence agencies have little doubt that the attack was carried out by the government and that the toxic substance that led victims to choke was “likely chlorine.”

The use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria, if confirmed, would pose a dilemma for Washington, since it could not conceivably seek to rid Syria of a widely available chemical with numerous legitimate uses.

“There’s reluctance to call attention to it because there’s not much we can do about it,” a senior U.S. official said. “You can’t ask a country to get rid of all its chlorine.”

Another analyst quoted by the Post called the use of chlorine gas “puzzling,” because it has a very limited military value. But Assad isn’t using it for its tactical value; he’s using it as a weapon of terror. He wants to flush the rebels out from civilian areas where they get support. This isn’t difficult to figure out, but the twist here is that the rebels in many cases are terrorist groups too, who hide in civilian areas to keep from being attacked frontally by military units. Given half a chance, they’d use chlorine gas, and worse — which is another good reason to get the sarin components before the rebels get their hands on them.

The UN may investigate the use of chlorine, but, er … don’t expect much more than a strongly-worded memo, especially with Russia and its veto staying at Assad’s disposal.


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Nobody cares or ever cared. When the whole world is going into the dumper, what does Syria matter.

Oil Can on May 1, 2014 at 8:03 AM

Nothing scrubs away red lines better than lots and lots of chlorine gas.

Happy Nomad on May 1, 2014 at 8:07 AM

Dumbo Ears Power!

ConstantineXI on May 1, 2014 at 8:10 AM

It’s not like the U.N. or Obama or John Kerry are going to do anything.

NeoKong on May 1, 2014 at 8:10 AM

Helping either side “win” in this situation is bad for the US and most of the rest of the world. What to do? In this situation, the Enemy of our Enemy most definitely is NOT our friend.

Mord on May 1, 2014 at 8:11 AM

Nothing scrubs away red lines better than lots and lots of chlorine gas.

Happy Nomad on May 1, 2014 at 8:07 AM

I think we found Ed a new “sponsor” for The Ed Morrissey Show.

Steve Eggleston on May 1, 2014 at 8:11 AM

And if you think that he has actually gotten rid of his worst stuff, then you are deluded. The spin mix in flight empty shells are easy to make and fill as needed: they don’t need to be put on the shelf in a ready to use form as they are easily made ready to use from feedstocks.

Good luck on finding the places where the empty shells are squirreled away. And the drums of feedstock necessary for them.

Anyone who trumpets the regime getting rid of chemical weapons is deluded in the extreme. The regime needs to terrorize the population and nerve gas doesn’t do that. Mustard gas does. The nastier stuff is the poor man’s WMD deterrent to Israel. And there is no way, no matter what is shown as being ‘destroyed’ that the regime is giving that up.

ajacksonian on May 1, 2014 at 8:12 AM

This is not our fight, sad but true.

Johnnyreb on May 1, 2014 at 8:14 AM

AP colluded with the White House on Benghazi lie.

Why should any American Citizen believe anything from the legacy media aka Obama’s Praetorian Guard.

workingclass artist on May 1, 2014 at 8:21 AM

That this was not released until now is disturbing, though the fact that it was released suggests that there’s no systematic cover-up under way.
 
The contents are routine and I revealing. There is no suggestion at all that anyone else in the loop thought the situation was other than described.
 
It’s a nothing burger.

rogerb on May 1, 2014 at 8:21 AM

I don’t really care what kind of weapons the muzzies are using to kill each other with as long as it stays Turban vs Turban.

ConstantineXI on May 1, 2014 at 8:30 AM

That this was not released until now is disturbing, though the fact that it was released suggests that there’s no systematic cover-up under way.

The contents are routine and I revealing. There is no suggestion at all that anyone else in the loop thought the situation was other than described.

It’s a nothing burger.

rogerb on May 1, 2014 at 8:21 AM

Actually if you had been paying attention, this story has been around since last weekend. I think the reason it hasn’t had more attention than it got was twofold.

First, Assad is gassing his own people. Again. What, really, can be done about that?

Secondly, LIVs were much more interested in a story involving a racist old NBA team owner, a bunch of overpaid millionaires threatening a race riot in the midst of the NBA playoffs, and side show actors like a fat racist cow called Oprah.

Happy Nomad on May 1, 2014 at 8:31 AM

AP colluded with the White House on Benghazi lie.

Why should any American Citizen believe anything from the legacy media aka Obama’s Praetorian Guard.

workingclass artist on May 1, 2014 at 8:21 AM

I think the “approved” term is Presstorian Guard.

Steve Eggleston on May 1, 2014 at 8:34 AM

Happy Nomad on May 1, 2014 at 8:31 AM

You just got fished.

Bishop on May 1, 2014 at 8:35 AM

Why should any American Citizen believe anything from the legacy media aka Obama’s Praetorian Guard.

workingclass artist on May 1, 2014 at 8:21 AM

Two reasons. The situation as spiraled into such chaos the MSM can’t pretend that the claims of the White House about removing the chemical stockpiles are believable. They never were but the MSM was willing to go along with the lies until the gassing of civilians started up again.

Secondly, it sadly doesn’t matter anymore. When John McCain was out there painting the rebels as Jeffersonian democrats and Assad was on the ropes it might have had some importance. McCain’s frustrated democrats have found common cause with the Muslim Brotherhood and/or Al Qaeda. Assad is still in power. It simply isn’t a fight continuing even though the rat-eared bastard is partly responsible that Assad is gassing his own people.

Happy Nomad on May 1, 2014 at 8:44 AM

It’s a nothing burger.

rogerb on May 1, 2014 at 8:21 AM

; )

Bmore on May 1, 2014 at 9:02 AM

irony.
in syria these are (rightfully) called wmd.
in iraq only nukes can be called wmd.
when it came to iraq the whole wmd trio of NBC (nuke/bio/chem) got tossed out the window for political expediency.

dmacleo on May 1, 2014 at 9:41 AM

Bashar al-Assad needs to give up his weapons of mass destruction and cooperate honestly with America, so that his country can be bombed back into the stone age and he personally can end his days being sodomized by a knife like Muammar Gaddafi.

Or maybe that idea gives him an uncomfortable feeling in the shorts.

Barack Obama has taught everybody what the new reward structure is.

This is by far Barack Obama’s biggest foreign policy blunder. Long after many of Barack’s blunders have been forgotten (though not the disaster in Ukraine) America will still be getting less cooperation because Barack Obama firmly established America as a back-stabber.

Some previous American presidents have screwed up seriously in ways that might loosely be compared to this, e.g. John F. Kennedy and the Diem assassination. First: Vietnam is not a good omen. And second: these were screw-ups. Kennedy was surprised, shocked, remorseful, and unlikely ever to make such a blunder again. Hillary Clinton on the other hand was pumping her fist and gloating over this disgraceful act.

America is often obeyed not because it has the power to destroy you if you don’t obey (which everyone knows), but because it has also had a credible promise of safety for those who “come out with their hands up”. That is what Muammar Gaddafi counted on.

Killing Muammar Gaddafi was an epic foreign policy blunder. Now the smart play is to defy America as much as you think you can get away with, and always keep your weapons of mass destruction handy.

David Blue on May 1, 2014 at 10:19 AM

…at this point!…what does it matter!

KOOLAID2 on May 1, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Future Presidents are going to be blamed for bad diplomatic outcomes that won’t really be their fault. The bad outcomes will be the fault of Barack Obama.

David Blue on May 1, 2014 at 11:00 AM

David Blue,

Bashar al-Assad needs to give up his weapons of mass destruction and cooperate honestly with America, so that his country can be bombed back into the stone age and he personally can end his days being sodomized by a knife like Muammar Gaddafi.

Or maybe that idea gives him an uncomfortable feeling in the shorts.

Barack Obama has taught everybody what the new reward structure is.

This is by far Barack Obama’s biggest foreign policy blunder. Long after many of Barack’s blunders have been forgotten (though not the disaster in Ukraine) America will still be getting less cooperation because Barack Obama firmly established America as a back-stabber.

Bingo. Funny thing is I can almost hear John Kerry making a similar offer to Bashar Assad. “Work with us Bashar and we when the time comes we will turn on you, arm your opposition, plunge your nation into civil war and leave you dying in a ditch…Oh and, assuming they survive, we’ll make sure your family is harassed everyday for the rest of their lives.”

Mike Honcho on May 1, 2014 at 8:30 PM