Compromise’ May Return Chemical Weapons Facilities Back to Assad

Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite fighters in the Hussein Brigade look for members of the Free Syrian Army in Damascus, Syria, on November 22, 2013.

Jaber al-Helo/AP

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Iraqi and Lebanese Shiite fighters in the Hussein Brigade look for members of the Free Syrian Army in Damascus, Syria, on November 22, 2013.

Officials in Washington are nervous over a proposal to return some of Syria's underground chemical weapons facilities back to the Assad regime. By Diane Barnes

Syria’s regime may be able to retain parts of its shuttered chemical-arms factories under “compromise” terms devised by a global watchdog agency.

The United States could endorse the concept in order to finalize a plan this week for dealing with the dozen contested sites, even though doing so would require making “serious” concessions to President Bashar Assad’s government, said Robert Mikulak, Washington’s envoy to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

We are not, however, prepared to go further or engage in further haggling,” Mikulak told the agency’s 41-nation governing board on Tuesday.

He indicated that the plan from the agency’s Netherlands-based staff would impose new “tunnel perimeters” and “more effective monitoring measures” for at least some of Syria’s five underground facilities, while demolishing seven fortified hangars.

Mikulak did not elaborate further on the proposal. Additional details were not immediately available.

Washington previously rejected proposals by Assad’s regime to neutralize the 12 sites through measures short of full demolition. International authorities last year called for destruction of the sites by March, as part of a global effort to dismantle the Syrian government’s chemical-weapons arsenal.

From the start, Syria has engaged in a concerted effort to retain these 12 former chemical weapons production facilities,” Mikulak said. “If Syria rejects this compromise proposal and continues its intransigence, there must be consequences.”

Assad’s regime last month finished handing over hundreds of tons of warfare agents as part of the international disarmament operation. The government agreed to relinquish its chemical stockpile in the wake of a 2013 nerve-agent attack that killed more than 1,400 people, according to U.S. estimates.

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