The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its inspectors found traces of deadly nerve agents in multiple locations across Syria despite the commitment by President Bashar al Assad’s regime to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal, according to a new report.
The watchdog group has discovered soman and VX, precursors for chemical warfare, at several undeclared facilities in Syria, including two near Damascus, over the past three years, raising questions about whether Assad abided by the U.S.-Russian 2014 international disarmament deal.
The OPCW said the findings detail a "troubling pattern of incomplete and inaccurate Syrian disclosures" regarding the scope of the nation’s chemical weapons program, Foreign Policy reported Tuesday.
The inconsistencies have further fueled speculation among U.S. and Western officials that the Syrian government may be attempting to maintain a limited chemical weapons capacity to use against rebels fighting to topple Assad.
Assad vowed in 2013 to eliminate the country’s chemical weapons program after the U.S. vowed to conduct airstrikes against government targets. The OPCW confirmed in the summer of 2014 that Syria’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons had been removed from the country.
But the watchdog group’s latest findings undermine Assad’s insistence that the government has entirely destroyed the program.
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu wrote in the report that most of the 122 samples taken at multiple labs in Syria "indicate potentially undeclared chemical weapons-related activities." He added that most of Syria’s defenses for having the undeclared agents "are not scientifically or technically plausible, and … the presence of several undeclared chemical warfare agents is still to be clarified," Foreign Policy reported.
President Obama told the Atlantic in April that he was "very proud" of his decision not to order airstrikes against the Assad regime in 2013 after it attacked civilians with the chemical agent sarin, killing more than 1,400 people.
Obama had infamously vowed that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would constitute a "red line" provoking U.S. military force. He instead used diplomatic channels to reach a disarmament deal with Russia and Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry said the agreement successfully "got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out of" Assad’s control.
The U.S. representative to the OPCW, Kenneth Ward, accused Syria in July of engaging "in a calculated campaign of intransigence and obfuscation, of deception, and of defiance," according to Foreign Policy.
Ward said OPCW’s collection of undeclared chemical warfare agents across Syria are "indicative of production, weaponization, and storage of [chemical warfare] agents by the Syrian military that has never been acknowledged by the Syrian government."
"We, therefore, remain very concerned that [chemical weapons] agent and associated munitions, subject to declaration and destruction, have been illicitly retained by Syria," he continued.