October 31 marked a major milestone in our determined effort to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons program. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced it is now confident that no additional chemical agents or munitions can be produced in Syria. Just a few months ago, Syria had one of the largest chemical weapons stockpiles in the world – including mustard and sarin – and Bashar al-Assad was using these awful weapons to kill his own people. In addition, given the situation on the ground in Syria, this dangerous arsenal was at risk of capture by or transfer into the hands of extremists.
In mid-September, we and Russia agreed to work together to ensure the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program in the fastest and safest manner possible. Our joint commitment led to an historic United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution that legally bound Syria to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile under international supervision on a very fast timeline.
Work is being done around the clock to ensure that these deadly weapons are never used again against the Syrian people or against any other citizens in the region or beyond. Less than three months after the ghastly August 21 attack, we have finished the first phase of the elimination process by destroying Syria’s capacity to make chemical weapons. The OPCW’s central role in this ongoing effort was highlighted when it was honored with the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize last month. The people behind the scenes are brave and dedicated, and so we applaud the OPCW and UN personnel who have taken great personal risks to get the job done. They planned and conducted the inspection site visits, supervised the destruction process, and provided security and logistics to the inspectors.
The international community has stepped up given the magnitude of the task. The OPCW has received over $14 million in funding commitments, and air transportation and armored vehicles for the inspection teams. The United States has contributed $6 million, including direct financial assistance to the UN and OPCW trust funds set up to support this project, as well as training, equipment, protective gear, logistical support, and medication for the inspection team.
While what has been accomplished so far is a significant step, the UN-OPCW Joint Mission will require ongoing support for the final phase of elimination. Here in Washington and in the field, we are already laying the groundwork to provide substantial contributions to the destruction outside of Syria of Syria’s remaining 1,000 tons of chemical agent. As if often the case, the United States has unique capabilities it can apply to this monumental task, thanks to the leadership at our Department of Defense and the foresight and innovation of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. We are also working with other countries that can provide additional capabilities and support.
In the end, Syria will be held accountable for the safe and swift elimination of its chemical weapons program and for full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2118, OPCW Executive Council decisions, and the Chemical Weapons Convention. But the international community can speed this process, and in so doing ensure that chemical weapons will not threaten the people of Syria or fall into the hands of extremists who could use them to harm Americans or our allies and partners.