U.S. officials are continuing to question whether the embattled Syrian government truly dismantled all of its chemical-weapons equipment under the direction of international monitors in the civil war-torn nation, according to reports.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced on Thursday that Syria completed the functional destruction of critical equipment from its 23 declared chemical-weapons production and mixing sites, and an OPCW-U.N. team was done with inspections in the Mideast country.
However, U.S. officials previously estimated the Syrian government had 45 chemical-arms sites, and still are not sure if that jibes with Assad’s declaration that the country has just 23 sites with 41 facilities. In addition, OPCW-U.N. inspectors could not visit two of the 23 Syrian sites because of security concerns, so international observers have to trust the Assad regime’s assurance that the locations are abandoned and their equipment was moved.
“Our assessment is it is unlikely Syria will declare and/or destroy all of their chemical weapons,” an unnamed senior official with access to current intelligence told CNN on Thursday.
Syrian President Bashar Assad in September agreed to accept the destruction of his chemical-weapons arsenal amid international condemnation following an August gas-attack on citizens. The chemical watchdog agency is working to eliminate the chemical arsenal in Syria by mid-2014, starting with equipment.
Some clarity may be coming on the not-visited sites. Reports out of Syria on Friday say the army captured from rebel control a northern town containing one of them, Reuters reported.
In Washington on Thursday, a key senator questioned the discrepancy between Assad’s disclosure of 23 chemical-arms sites and 41 facilities compared to the U.S. estimate of 45 sites.
“What’s the story with what we believe are the rest of the sites, and how are we ensuring that we are getting access to the entire inventory of what we believe exists in Syria?” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) asked during a hearing on Syria.
Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Thomas Countryman replied: “Whether we are talking about sites and facilities, whether we are double-counting, it is — as you note — a serious question that needs to be addressed.”
He said the State Department is “carefully” studying Syria’s classified 700-page inventory of its holdings.