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U.S. Keeping Close Eye on Syria’s Chemical Weapons

Feb. 15, 2012 - 01:36PM   |  
By KATE BRANNEN   |   Comments
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The United States is paying close attention to Syria’s weapons inventory, especially its stockpile of chemical weapons, U.S. State Department officials said.

The U.S. is concerned about what will happen to those weapons if and when the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad falls.

“We attempt to monitor closely the Syrian regime’s control and security over these chemical weapons,” Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, told reporters Feb. 15.

Syria — along with Angola, North Korea, Egypt and Somalia — has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty, which outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. Israel and Myanmar have signed the treaty but have yet to ratify it.

That limits the transparency of Syria’s chemical warfare program. However, “we have ideas as to quantities and we have ideas as to where they are,” said Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary for arms control at the State Department.

A change in regime in Syria could be chaotic or it could be orderly.

Either way, the U.S. would be prepared to work with any successor government to secure and destroy those weapons, Countryman said.

The State Department has led the U.S. effort to secure and destroy weapons in Libya, particularly thousands of man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), which pose a risk to civilian aircraft.

Countryman estimated Syria also has a MANPADS inventory in the tens of thousands.

The United States is urging Syria’s neighbors to be ready to be on the lookout for chemical weapons and MANPADS crossing their borders.

As for conventional weapons, both Iran and Russia continue to supply Syria with arms.

“We regret that deeply,” Countryman said. “We don’t believe the Russian shipment of weapons to Syria is in the interest of finding a peaceful resolution in Syria.”

The European Union and the Arab League have declared they will not export any weapons to Syria.

Countryman would not comment on the numbers or types of conventional weapons being supplied to the Assad government, but said they could be used against protesters.

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