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Chemical Weapons Expert: U.S. Deadline for Syrian Chemical Weapons Is Contrary to International Law

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Headlined to H3 9/19/13

International Agency Made Up of 41 Nations will Decide Timeline

Given that the U.S. has now backed down from its insistence that a UN resolution on Syria include the use of force -- and there are indications that Syria won't meet the American deadline for declaring its chemical weapons -- issues of timing and procedure have become more important than ever.

We interviewed a top chemical weapons expert to find out what the timeframe really means.

Specifically, we called Jean Pascal Zanders -- widely recognized as one of the world's top chemical weapons experts -- to find out whether U.S. insistence that Syria has to declare all of its chemical weapons this week (and destroy them within a couple of months) was proper under international law.

Zanders explained to Washington's Blog that the U.S. might have "preferences," but that the international community would decide...

"I think it's really good that the concept of disarmament has been put center stage. But certainly, that was not the intention of Kerry and others."

Now we have a document which is a framework that gives a number of parameters that will be presented to the OPCW [the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- which is the implementing organization for the Chemical Weapons Convention] at the Hague.

And it is later this week -- possibly Thursday or Friday -- that the executive council of the OPCW will make decisions concerning the requirements for Syria's CW [chemical weapons].

One of the [claims] that comes from press reports suggests that this Friday is the deadline for Syria to give the documents concerning the make-up of its chemical weapons arsenal. But if the Executive Committee of the OPCW were to adopt such a short time-frame for the first report to come in, I'm pretty sure that this would be countered when the Executive Council makes its decision.

The document [signed by Kerry and his Russian counterpart] has no legal value. This is not a treaty, not something that Kerry has adopted. And if you see the reports that the weapons inspectors will come in by November, that is not so different from what the Chemical Weapons Convention demands.

We know that the treaty will enter into force on the 14th of October; one month after Syria deposited its instrument of accession [i.e., when the Syrian government agreed in writing to abide by the Chemical Weapons Convention].

And then Syria has one month to submit its initial declaration, after which the inspectors go in. In other words, one month after is the 14th of November, after which the inspectors have two weeks to check everything out.

That's perfectly in line with what framework agreement [under the Chemical Weapons Convention].

The next thing is timing and method of destruction [of the chemical weapons]. It's my feeling that the Executive Council has to decide on such a schedule. Its clear that Russia and the United States have indicated what their preference is, but the date is the decision of the OPCW, which is a body composed of 41 states, subdivided according to regional groups.

In that body, Russia and the United States have one vote each.

The OPCW is going to take into account not only political but also technical considerations as to what Syria can do. And that particular decision might not be taken this week because -- in order for the Executive Commission of the OPCW to make that final determination -- they would have to get the initial declaration [of the size, nature and location of chemical weapons] from Syria, which would then be assessed by staff at the OPCW ... and that's how recommendations would be formulated.

So the deadline of 2014 might be desired, but it's not necessarily going to be a reality. We will have to see.

[Another alternative is] to render the munitions useless in a variety of ways. If that were agreed, you could reach a 2014 deadline. That could be another way to achieve the goal.

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