If History Is Any Measure, the Clock Is Ticking
William J Broad, David E. Sanger — New York Times Sept 14, 2013
When Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had to convince the world 10 years ago that he was serious about giving up his chemical weapons, he dragged warheads and bombs into the desert and flattened them with bulldozers.
When Saddam Hussein, defeated in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, had to demonstrate that he was giving up his chemical arsenal, Iraqis protected by little more than tattered cloths over their faces poured some of the agents into ditches and set them on fire — to the shock of inspectors watching in heavy “moon suits.”
Weapons experts and diplomats say that if President Bashar al-Assad is serious about complying with the landmark agreement announced in Geneva on Saturday, he will have to take similarly dramatic action in the coming weeks. Anything short of an immediate demonstration of willingness, they say, will be a sign that Mr. Assad is seeking to drag out the process, betting that time is on his side as memories fade of the attack that is said to have killed more than 1,400 people and prompted a military standoff with the United States.
The benchmarks laid out in the Geneva agreement seek to capitalize on the momentum by imposing quick deadlines, including a requirement that Syria submit a complete list of its chemical weapons, and storage and production facilities within a week. The agreement also requires “immediate and unfettered” access to chemical weapons sites by international inspectors.
The agreement calls for the destruction of chemical agent mixing equipment by November and, perhaps most ambitious, for Syria to completely rid itself of chemical weapons and production facilities in less than a year, a timetable that would set a speed record and one that many experts doubt could be completed even with Syria’s full cooperation.
Experts say speed is of the essence.
“You have a very limited time to do as much as you can with maximum political support,” said David A. Kay, who led major efforts in the 1990s to find and destroy Iraq’s unconventional arms. “The political support will start to erode. The people you’re inspecting will get tired. So you want to do as much as you can, as quickly as you can.”
But the destruction of chemical agents is a painstaking process that, to be done safely and securely, can easily take decades. And even the preliminary steps are laden with potential political hurdles and environmental risks, and possibilities for obfuscation and deception.
“We don’t want to create another chemical weapons disaster; Syria has already had several,” said one senior administration official who has knowledge of the meetings over how to separate Mr. Assad from the arsenal that he and his father have built up over the past three decades. He insisted on anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations. But if Mr. Assad does not put on “a big, demonstrable show” to prove to the Syrian military that he is “giving up the crown jewels,” the official said, “this isn’t going to work.”
Robert Joseph, a former top national security official under President George W. Bush who helped create the requirements for Libya when it gave up its nuclear program and chemical stockpiles, said Libya complied because “the Libyan leadership believed that it would be attacked” if it did not abandon its program.
“I doubt Assad has that worry now,” he said, though White House officials insist that President Obama’s declaration that he is keeping military forces in the Mediterranean on alert sends that message.
Commentary — Sept 15, 2013
The above is yet another example of disinformation masquerading as journalism.
The New York Times is right however, when it says the clock is still ticking. Although it doesn’t explain the real reason why the countdown to conflict over Syria has stalled, if only temporarily.
The New York Times writers also overlook the obvious irony in the two examples they cite to illustrate their story. For despite the fact that both Libya’s Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein gave up their stocks of chemical weapons both were subsequently removed from power by Western-led military coalitions.
The NYT omits to mention that their alleged possession of chemical weapons was simply used as a pretext for later military action. From which we may conclude Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons is likewise being used as a pretext for Western military intervention.
The only thing that stopped that was the clear prospect signalled by Russia, that it would intervene on Assad’s behalf, as Western forces began assembling in the eastern Mediterranean.
Nor does the NYT even refer to President Assad’s claim that the ‘Syrian rebels’ used chemical weapons. This has also been Russia’s position and it’s backed clear evidence, both photographic and video.