THE HAGUE, Netherlands —
The U.S. and Russia agree that Syria has roughly 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons agents and precursors, such as sulfur and mustard gas, and nerve agents. External experts say they are distributed over 50 to70 sites. One of the OPCW experts with a military background said the “open source” information about the Syrian program is “reasonable.”
Timothee Germain, a researcher at the Center for International Security and Arms Control in Paris, who is not involved with the OPCW project, said that in the early phases of Syria’s civil war, chemical weapons were consolidated into a small number of sites in order to keep them from falling into the hands of rebels. But when the prospect of a U.S. military strike emerged, the weapons may have been redistributed over a larger number of sites to preserve them.
He added that he is skeptical the current timeline can be achieved. “From a technical standpoint, it’s really a long-shot,” he said.
The investigators said members of the initial group of 20 will meet with counterparts from Syria’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday and begin planning. A week later, the OPCW mission will be expanded to a larger number of investigators who will arrive in waves and begin visiting sites and disabling equipment. At the same time, they will be examining sites for their suitability as places to eventually destroy chemicals and ready-to-fire weapons, which is usually done by incineration.
“At this stage we’re looking at tens of inspectors” for the mission, the OPCW military expert said. The teams will include chemists, military experts and medical personnel trained to deal with the hazards posed by chemical waste.
Protection for OPCW staff will be provided primarily by the Syrian government, with support from the U.N., which has a longstanding working relationship with the OPCW and lines of communication open with rebel groups.