United Nations Near Agreement with Chemical Agency on Syria Cooperation

Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire

LONDON -- The United Nations and a Netherlands-based international organization responsible for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention are close to agreeing on how to delineate their roles in inspecting and ultimately eliminating Syria’s newly declared chemical arms, according to key officials.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been at loggerheads with the United Nations over the past week or more regarding which body would effectively take more of a leading role in Syria, sources tell Global Security Newswire.

Under a supplementary agreement between the two international entities -- possibly to be concluded before the end of this week -- inspectors would be hired and dispatched to Syria under the OPCW aegis, to verify declared chemical stocks and prepare for their elimination.

Logistics and security for the team likely would be provided by the United Nations, according to U.N. officials and outside experts.

The United Nations has a basic operating pact with the chemical-treaty organization and already maintains some field teams on the ground in Syria, making collaboration on the inspections and lock-down of the Mideast nation’s arsenal almost inevitable.

However, since the United States and Russia struck their groundbreaking Sept. 14 accord in reaction to use of chemical weapons in Syria, many essential details of how the pact would be implemented have yet to be determined.

“We are looking into what role we could possibly play,” one U.N. official said in a Wednesday telephone interview.

In line with the U.S.-Russia deal, Syria has just joined the chemical treaty -- which bans the production, stockpiling or use of the deadly arms -- and has issued to OPCW officials a confidential declaration on the size and locations of its chemical arsenal.

The development followed the Syrian military’s alleged use of sarin gas against its civilian population on Aug. 21, which Washington and its allies say claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people just outside of capital city Damascus.

An international task force returned to Syria on Wednesday to continue its investigation into suspected instances of chemical use in the nation’s two-year-old civil war.

The chemical weapons organization in the Hague has not yet officially shared key details about Syria’s chemical stocks declaration with the United Nations in New York -- and it was unclear on Thursday how much would be revealed to the international body or along what time lines.

OPCW officials are obligated to safeguard chemical-stockpile information provided by member nations.

Security considerations could impede the wide distribution of sensitive information about the distribution and size of Syria’s chemical arsenal, according to issue experts.

“Confidentiality is an important [factor]” in ensuring that chemical stocks are not put at a higher security risk following a CWC states-party declaration of the kind made by Syria, said Yasemin Balci, a legal officer based here with VERTIC, an independent non-profit organization specializing in verifying international treaties. “That’s a very tricky situation.”

However, the treaty organization will share data for the purposes of states parties being “assured of the continued compliance with the convention by other states parties,” according to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The expected supplementary pact between the two entities also would likely sort out how operations are to be funded, officials said.

An upcoming resolution by the U.N. Security Council -- still under negotiation principally by the United States and Russia -- and a decision by the OPCW Executive Council are to formalize upcoming action on the Syrian stockpile.

Washington and Moscow have not yet agreed on how implementation would be enforced if President Bashar Assad’s government balks, or if U.N. or OPCW inspections personnel are put at risk.

Inspectors in Syria looking into the alleged Ghouta attack were targeted by sniper fire in late August, though there were no reported injuries.