U.S. completes destruction of Syria’s deadliest chemical weapons

U.S. completes destruction of Syria’s deadliest chemical weapons

PanARMENIAN.Net - The United States said Monday, July 18, that it had completed the destruction of the deadliest chemical weapons in Syria’s arsenal, a rare foreign policy achievement for President Obama at a time when the Middle East is embroiled in violence and political turmoil, The New York Times reported.

The announcement comes a year after President Bashar al-Assad of Syria used sarin gas to kill more than 1,000 people in a Damascus suburb, crossing what Obama had called a “red line” that would force the United States to respond. Facing the prospect of an American military intervention, the Syrian government agreed to a deal brokered by the United States and Russia, promising to destroy its chemical weapons program by the middle of this year.

On Monday, Obama said that the destruction of the weapons, several weeks ahead of schedule, “advances our collective goal to ensure that the Assad regime cannot use its chemical arsenal against the Syrian people and sends a clear message that the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences and will not be tolerated by the international community.”

The destruction of Assad’s 1,300-ton stockpile of chemical agents was a complicated process. Amid the continuing Syrian civil war, the United States and allies transferred them to the Cape Ray, an American military ship where nearly half were destroyed.

The Defense Department said last month that Syria gave up the last of its stockpiles in June and that a team of experts aboard the Cape Ray was busy neutralizing stocks of methylphosphonyl difluoride, which is used to make sarin, and sulfur mustard in the eastern Mediterranean. The toxic chemicals were rendered inert during a 60-day process in a titanium reactor aboard the Cape Ray.

Italian officials helped to load 600 tons of the chemicals to the ship, which was built in 1977 to move vehicles to war zones, and the rest were sent to Finnish, German and British facilities to be destroyed.

Secretary of State John Kerry said that the destruction of the chemicals was a milestone, but that Assad’s arsenal still presented a threat.

“The international community has important questions with regard to discrepancies and omissions related to Syria’s chemical weapons declaration,” Kerry said, according to the NYT.

Syria still faces a mandate to destroy its chemical weapons production facilities. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons recently reported the use of chlorine gas in areas where opposition to the government remains strong.

The destruction of the weapons comes as Obama’s foreign policy has been under fire from critics and allies. This month, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that his reluctance to arm Syrian rebels had “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”

The Obama administration did ask Congress for $500 million to train and equip “appropriately vetted” members of the Syrian opposition, and Kerry said on Monday that the United States would provide “political, financial and other support” to the moderate forces there.

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