Operation to deny Assad chemical weapons in deep trouble

A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon as he inspects a damaged car. Photo: REUTERS/Molhem Barakat.

The one diplomatic success in the dismal story of failure in Syria is the deal to deny Assad his deadliest weapons.

Today has come confirmation that the operation is delayed and deep in trouble.

Only fifteen tonnes of have been removed so far, which means we might still be talking about this come Christmas.

The process, under the auspices of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was always expected to be fraught with difficulties.

Not least that the chemicals have to be transported to the port of Latakia through what military people call, in euphemistic terms, contested territory.

OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu said today he still hopes to meet the June deadline, but his frustrations are obvious.

Among other headaches, thirty tonnes of mustard gas are still stuck under Syrian control some way from internationally approved safe hands.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout

There is some good news. To make sarin nerve gas the Syrians need manufacturing plants and then places to mix the ingredients, known in the business as Precursors A and B.

That capability has been destroyed. So is it time for a plan B?

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon runs a company called Secure-Biobut was once the head of Britain’s Chemical Weapons Counter Terror Force.

"There is only thirty tonnes of mustard gas. Why not destroy the stuff in Syria and don’t worry about the precursors because at the end of the day they’re just toxic chemicals?’’ he asks.

*Hamish de Bretton-Gordon speaks to ITV News: *

It might also solve another potential problem. A row is brewing in Italy where Syria’s chemical cargo will briefly come ashore. Britain has agreed to destroy 150 tons of Precursor B. A likely location is Ellesmore Port, where there are specialist facilities.

It is, experts assure us, no more dangerous that dealing many other industrial chemical hazards.

But some are now wondering whether it is necessary at all.