Wednesday

21st Apr 2021

EU offers to help destroy Syria weapons

  • OPCW staff on a training exercise (Photo: opcw.org)

EU countries have offered to help destroy Syria's chemical weapons as part of a Russia-US deal.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US secretary of state John Kerry agreed the plan on Saturday (14 September) in Geneva after three days of talks.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It says Syria must in one week disclose details of its chemical arsenal to the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental body created in 1997 and based in The Hague.

It must give OPCW staff full access to it facilities.

OPCW personnel are to destroy "production and mixing/filling equipment" by November.

They are to destroy all remaining "weapons material and equipment" in the first half of 2014.

If Syria does not comply, if it uses chemical weapons or if it tries to sneak them to allies in Lebanon and Iran, then Russia and the US "concur" that "the UN Security Council should impose measures under chapter VII of the UN charter," or, in other words, should authorise use of military force.

Syria itself on Saturday ratified the OCPW charter.

It also welcomed the deal. "It's a victory for Syria achieved thanks to our Russian friends," its reconciliation minister, Ali Haidar, told Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

But Syrian rebel leaders rejected it. "We cannot accept this initiative … We will continue to fight until the fall of the regime," Free Syrian Army chief Selim Idriss told press in Istanbul.

For his part, Kerry said in Geneva: "I have no doubt that the combination of the threat of force and the willingness to pursue diplomacy helped to bring us to this moment."

Lavrov warned Syrian rebels "not to create threats to [OPCW] international personnel."

Leading EU countries France, Germany and the UK, as well as China and Iran, have endorsed the agreement.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told an election rally in Germany on Sunday it creates hope for a political solution to the civil war.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, while visiting China, said: "Only a few days ago, Syria was denying having chemical weapons and having used them. From now on we are in a new phase."

British foreign minister William Hague noted in London: "This is a significant step forward."

EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton added in a statement: "A number of EU member states have the technical knowledge necessary to assist in securing sites, and in dismantling and destroying certain chemical agents … the EU stands ready to offer further support to the OPCW in carrying out its important and urgent tasks."

Syrian rebels are not the only ones unhappy with developments, however.

Two US senators from the opposition Republican Party, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, predict Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad will use the chemical deal to muzzle international critics while he continues to massacre civilians.

They said it is "the start of a diplomatic blind alley, and the Obama administration is being led into it by Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin," referring to US President Barack Obama and Russian head of state Vladimir Putin.

With Kerry due in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli leaders on Sunday, Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt noted that Israel is also suspected of having chemical weapons.

"After Syria deal, with implementation to be watched carefully, Israel should ratify and Egypt sign and ratify Chemical Weapons Convention," he tweeted.

Kerry in Geneva also explained how the deal came about.

The initiative took off after Kerry, at a press conference in London last Monday, said, in an off-the-cuff remark, that al-Assad could avoid military strikes by handing over "every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week."

He noted in Switzerland on Saturday that he had discussed the idea with Lavrov by phone in the run-up to the G20 summit in St Petersburg before the London press event.

He said Obama and Putin also talked about it in St Petersburg and that "the rest is history."

In EU circles, the Polish foreign ministry is putting it about that its minister, Radek Sikorski, came up with the plan.

An EU diplomat told EUobserver it originated in a meeting of eight Nordic and Baltic foreign ministers in Visby, Sweden, on 4 September, however.

The diplomat said the eight countries discussed Syria after requests for Ashton to convene an EU-level debate fell on deaf ears.

EU-Syria diplomacy in limbo

The EU is upholding diplomatic privileges for Syrian officials despite the fact there is no EU-Syria diplomacy.

News in Brief

  1. European 'Super League' falls apart
  2. Concern growing Russia to recognise Ukraine 'republics'
  3. Spain withdraws judicial appointments reform
  4. Dozen EU countries confident of July adult-vaccination target
  5. EMA: Johnson & Johnson jab benefits outweigh risks
  6. Prague asks EU and Nato states to expel Russian diplomats
  7. Global CO2 energy-related emissions to rise 5% in 2021
  8. Ukraine: Russia 'will soon have 120,000 troops at border'

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. EU negotiators strike deal on climate 'law of laws'
  2. 'Dire' suffering continues in Ethiopia war, EU envoy says
  3. Study: EU 'largely lost leadership' on media freedom
  4. Facebook users in EU get more Covid disinformation than US
  5. EU sends vaccines to Balkans, in wake of China and Russia
  6. Biden's withdrawal and Afghan migration to EU
  7. Europeans are Russian pipeline addicts
  8. Czech leader downplays Russian bomb attack

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us