International chemical weapons inspectors managed to gain access to yet another site in Syria which was previously unable to be reached due to the ongoing fighting in the country, dropping the total sites remaining down to one.
Experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have previously managed to inspect and verify the status of 21 out of 23 sites that the Syrian government declared at the end of September. According to a draft document, the inspection team on the ground recently managed to verify via footage from sealed cameras that the 22nd site is inoperative.
“The additional site inspected is in the region of Aleppo and was one of the two sites that could not be visited earlier due to safety and security reasons,” the document reads, according to Reuters. “As per the declaration by Syria, the site was confirmed as dismantled and long abandoned with the building showing extensive battle damage.”
Only one additional site remains out of reach of inspectors at this point, but it is unsure when the fighting between the government and various groups will calm enough for inspectors to visit it. The most recent report from the OPCW after a month on the ground showcases the incredible size and scope of the program that is currently challenging inspectors and experts, including 1,000 metric tons of Category 1 chemical weapons, 290 metric tons of Category 2 chemical weapons, and about 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions. Despite the magnitude, the extremely tight schedule agreed to in September appears to be proceeding apace so far.
While the Syrian government has been seen as cooperating with the international community since the agreement to destroy its chemical weapons was reached, it has recently been seen pushing the limits of the deal. According to Foreign Policy, Damascus has requested from the OPCW that a dozen of the buildings where chemical weapons were manufactured be spared from destruction, with some worried that the buildings could then easily be converted back to producing chemical agents. The United Nations has also received requests from the Syrian government for several items, including armored cars and power generators, to ostensibly help protect the inspectors but could be used for other military purposes.
“The United Nations will not procure or otherwise provide such dual-use material to the Government,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon wrote to the Security Council in his first monthly report on progress in Syria. “Any assistance provided by the United Nations will be subject to strict conditions in order to ensure that it used solely for the intended purposes.” Members of the Syrian opposition are still outraged, however, that any consideration is being given at all to such requests.
Meanwhile, the United States — which helped broker the deal with Russia to avoid launching a military strike against Syria — remains wary of the chance that Syria may not have declared the full range of its chemical weapons capabilities but committed to moving forward with the disarmament effort.
“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,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power told reporters on Tuesday. “But again, I think it’s important today to focus on the fact that the declared sites have been visited, there has been cooperation, and the equipment used for filling, et cetera, associated with those declared sites has been destroyed.”