Syria chemical weapons deadline not feasible, says OPCW scientific adviser

EXCLUSIVE

A senior adviser to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which last week won the Nobel Peace Prize, has said that the Russian and US-imposed deadline of a year for Syrian chemical disarmament will not be met.

Professor Ferruccio Trifiro, a member of the scientific committee which advises the OPCW — currently overseeing the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons — told the JC: “It is a very difficult process. Chemical weapons are very dangerous and very expensive to destroy and we still don’t know exactly how many actual weapons they have.

“I think that to say that we will have finished in less than a year is too optimistic.”

Following the gas attack by Syrian government forces in August, a US and Russia-drafted UN Security Council resolution required that all of Syria’s 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons agents and materials be destroyed, dismantled or delivered into safekeeping by the middle of 2014.

While such an outcome would be a huge strategic success for Israel, Israeli government officials have also expressed doubts that the resolution can implemented in time — if at all.

Prof Trifiro, dean of the faculty of industrial chemistry at University of Bologna in Italy, said: “If what they have is mainly precursors [chemical materials which are mixed together to produce a weapon] then those are much easier to destroy. But we don’t know yet how much of the Syrian stockpile are weapons and how much precursors.”

Prof Trifiro’s advisory committee specialises in the supervision of

chemical plants which can be used both for legitimate industrial purposes and to manufacture weapons.

Although an OPCW team has now been operating in Syria for over two weeks and the Syrian regime says it has handed over a full list of its stockpiles, Prof Trifiro said we know very little: “Of course we knew they have chemical weapons, but we did not discuss them much before as they had not signed the chemical weapons convention. They only signed it last month and we began to discuss it only in the last month.”

Another consideration is the cost of the operation. Destruction is usually financed by the country which holds the weapons. Prof Trifiro said: “We don’t know yet who will pay for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Will it be Syria or will the United Nations perhaps set up a special fund?”

Prof Trifrio also believes the Nobel Prize was awarded to OPCW because of its barely-started work in Syria — despite the Nobel Committee stressing that the prize had nothing to do with Syria and that it was awarded for 15 years of its operations.

“We proposed OPCW for the Nobel in the past but they told us it was too early because we hadn’t destroyed all the chemical weapons in the US and Russia. I think the situation in Syria has done something to change their minds,” he said.

Last updated: 9:19am, October 18 2013