OPCW’s confirmation could encourage a momentum shift towards diplomacy to end crisis

Syria has completed the “functional destruction” of all critical equipment that it had declared for manufacturing chemical weapons, raising hopes that it could well be on its way to complete chemical disarmament by the middle of next year.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) declared in a statement that “the Syrian Arab Republic has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable.”

The major announcement, implying Syria can no longer manufacture chemical weapons in future, has brought into focus the country’s existing stockpile of mass destruction arms.

With the infrastructure to build chemical weapons now destroyed, a new phase of chemical disarmament is set to commence, which will focus on Syria’s existing stockpiles. Under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States in September, Syria had pledged to eliminate all its chemical stocks by mid-2014, and has already declared a road map for their destruction.

“The next milestone for the mission will be November 15, by which time the Executive Council must approve a detailed plan of destruction submitted by Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpile,” said the OPCW statement on Thursday. Syria has acknowledged that it has around 1,290 tonnes of chemical weapons, and 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions —implying shells, rockets or mortars.

Inspectors visit 21 sites

The OPCW affirmed its findings after its inspectors visited 21 out of 23 chemical weapon production sites that Syria had declared, and witnessed the destruction of equipment on the spot.

The teams could not visit two sites, which were “too dangerous” to venture. However, the inspectors have confirmed that the material from these locations had been previously removed to other places, and had now been destroyed.

“The OPCW is satisfied it has verified, and seen destroyed, all declared critical production/mixing/filling equipment from all 23 sites,” the agency observed.

Analysts say the OPCW’s confirmation that Syria was abiding by the rules could have significant political fallout, as it could encourage a momentum shift towards diplomacy to end the festering Syrian crisis.

Speaking to BBC, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad hoped that “those who have always thought of us negatively will change their minds and understand that Syria was, is, and will be always a constructive partner.”

Greater flexibility

Already, the Russians — the torchbearers for a diplomatic solution —are signalling that the U.S. administration has begun to show greater flexibility towards expanding participation in the proposed Geneva-II talks on Syria.

Itar-Tass is quoting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying that Washington has now begun to listen to Russia’s argument that Iran — a top Damascus ally

— should be included within the circle of participants who need to work together to find a peaceful end to the Syrian crisis.

Critical phase

With one critical phase of the Syrian inspections out of the way, the special coordinator for the joint UN-OPCW mission on Syria, Sigrid Kaag, will head for Moscow on Friday, before emplaning for New York to submit a progress report on Syria to the U.N. Security Council.

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