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September 30, 2013

Syria’s chemical weapons inspectors outline scrap plan

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Inspectors who will oversee Syria’s destruction of its chemical weapons said Sunday their first priority is to help the country scrap its ability to manufacture such arms by a Nov. 1 deadline — using every means possible.

The chemical weapons inspectors said that may include smashing mixing equipment with sledgehammers, blowing up delivery missiles, driving tanks over empty shells or filling them with concrete, and running machines without lubricant so they seize up and become inoperable.

On Friday, the U.N. Security Council ordered the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to help Syria destroy its chemical weapons by mid-2014. On Sunday, inspectors met with media in The Hague to explain their current plan of action, which is to include an initial group of 20 leaving for Syria on Monday.

The organization allowed two inspectors to speak on condition of anonymity out of concern for their safety amid Syria’s civil war; both are veteran members of the OPCW. Spokesman Michael Luhan said the men “are going to be deeply involved in Syria.”

“This isn’t just extraordinary for the OPCW. This hasn’t been done before: an international mission to go into a country which is involved in a state of conflict and amid that conflict oversee the destruction of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction which it possesses,” Luhan said. “This is definitely a historical first.”

Syria acknowledged for the first time it has chemical weapons after an Aug. 21 poison gas attack killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb and President Barack Obama threatened a military strike in retaliation. A U.N. investigation found that nerve gas was used in the attack but stopped short of blaming it on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

After a flurry of diplomatic negotiations involving the U.S., Syria, and Syrian ally Russia, Syria made an initial voluntary disclosure of its program to the Hague-based OPCW. Under organization’s rules, the amounts and types of weapons in Syria’s stockpiles, and the number and location of the sites, will not be publicly disclosed.

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