CBS wonders: Say, what happened to Russia's guarantee on Syrian chemical weapons?

Good question — about four years too late, but still a good question. In 2013, Barack Obama and John Kerry claimed success after handing off responsibility for Syria’s chemical weapons to Russia, with the latter claiming that “we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out” of Syria. Just three months ago, former national-security adviser Susan Rice was still bragging that the Obama administration succeeded in forcing Bashar al-Assad to “voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.”

Oof. This morning, CBS News tries to walk that back a bit, but not with much success:

“There are two possibilities,” Andy Weber, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs and a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, told CBS News. “One is that they held back a couple barrels of the sarin component, or — and I don’t know which of these two possibilities is what happened — but the second possibility is they had the people and the experts,” and developed small labs from there, he said.

Gee, who would have imagined that? Pretty much everyone outside the Obama administration, actually, who warned that outsourcing implementation and verification to Assad’s second-closest ally was nothing more than a way for Obama and Kerry to wash their hands of the issue. CBS’ experts credit Russia with the deal, but …

The international community as a whole worked together on that deal, with the U.S. and particularly Russia — which also happened to be Assad’s strongest ally — in the lead. Without Moscow’s consistent pressure on Assad, the deal would never have happened, said Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation who was a senior adviser within the State Department at at the time of the agreement.

“Russia was integral in the implementation of the original deal,” Bell told CBS News.

The very fact that the deal could be reached was hailed as a success. Bell conceded, however, that “the accountability and implementation ever since has been difficult.”

No, it wasn’t just the very fact that the deal was reached that was hailed as a success. Obama, Kerry, and Rice all claimed to know that Syria had given up all of its chemical weapons. Kerry implied and Rice explicitly stated that the US had verified that removal, with Rice’s assurance coming in the final days of the Barack Obama administration.

That claim also came several months after it became obvious that it was untrue. The UN concluded in August 2016 that Assad had conducted two chemical-weapons attacks after the 2013 agreement, and suspected that three additional such attacks had taken place. Only in one did they conclude that non-governmental forces had used “toxic substances” in attacks:

The Security Council considered the third report (document S/2016/738) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)‑United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, pursuant to resolution 2235 (2015).  The report provides the findings, assessments and conclusions of the Mechanism’s Leadership Panel regarding those behind the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria.

The Leadership Panel concluded that, in the cases of Talmenes (21 April 2014) and Sarmin (16 March 2015), they had sufficient information to determine that the Syrian Armed Forces were responsible for the attack which released toxic substances.  In the case of Marea (21 August 2015), the Panel concluded that there was sufficient information to determine that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) was the only entity with the ability, capability, motive and the means to use sulfur mustard during this attack which released toxic substances.

Further, the Leadership Panel determined that in another three cases, Kafr Zita (18 April 2014), Qmenas (16 March 2015) and Binnish (24 March 2015), the investigation continued with analysis forthcoming from forensic institutes and laboratories.  The Mechanism will provide an update on these three cases in its fourth report in September.

In other words, the UN had “sufficient evidence” as far back as three years ago that not only did Syria still have chemical weapons, they were still using them in offensive operations. Almost all of them occurred after Kerry’s claim, and all of them occurred before Rice’s statement. All during and past that time, the Obama administration simply lied about the situation in order to defend their supposed “smart power” approach and leading from behind when it came to Syria and chemical weapons — and as Rice demonstrated, they kept lying about it to the last day of their tenure in office.

All due respect to Mr. Weber, who served at the DoD for most of Obama’s term, but there is a third possibility — that Obama and Kerry got played by Putin and Assad, and then lied to cover it up. The attack last week on Idlib following years of shabby and self-serving untruths from Weber’s bosses makes it pretty clear that this third possibility is most likely the correct explanation.

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