U.S. (kinda) calls out Syria over chemical arms disclosures

Olivier Knox

The White House has taken pains to portray Syria’s agreement to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal under international supervision as a big diplomatic victory for President Barack Obama. But on Tuesday, his envoy to the United Nations seemed to suggest that Syria might be double-dealing — that it may still be keeping some chemical weapons facilities secret.

Speaking at United Nations headquarters in New York, Ambassador Samantha Power said that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had inspected 21 of 23 arms sites “declared by Syria” and 39 of 41 facilities at those sites.

Power went on to say that Syria has “completed functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing and filling plans, rendering them inoperable.”

Got that? Solid progress at “declared sites.” But here’s the problem:

“More work, of course, remains to be done to ensure that the Syrian government’s list of declared sites is comprehensive,” Power said.

At the very least, Power was saying that the United States cannot vouch for Syria’s list of sites. When a reporter pressed Power on whether this meant that Washington thinks the list may not be “comprehensive and accurate,” the diplomat left the door wide open to possible Syrian duplicity.

“The Syria submission was a 700-page document with extremely technical details, so we are still reviewing that document,” she said. “We obviously bring skepticism born of years of dealing with this regime, years of obfuscation in other contexts, and of course a lot of broken promises in the context of this current war.”

“You’ll certainly hear from us in the event that we detect noncompliance or we detect significant discrepancies in their declaration,” she said. (File away for future use: "Significant")

So did Power mean to leave that door wide open? Was Syria’s list, provided to the international community to forestall U.S. military strikes, incomplete? Yahoo News asked the White House.

“We continue to review and assess the completeness and accuracy of Syria’s declaration to the OPCW,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.

“However, in accordance with OPCW regulations, Syria’s declaration is confidential, and we will not publicly discuss its details or our assessment of it,” Meehan said. “For further details, we would refer you to the OPCW.”