Below the headlines: CBW matters (9)

(A weekly digest from the internet on chemical and biological warfare issues. Emphasis is on incidents and perspectives, but inclusion of an item does not equal endorsement or agreement with the contents. This issue covers items collected between 10 – 16 April 2017.)

Chemical warfare in Syria

The chemical strike against Khan Sheikhoun

  • The Aftermath of an Alleged Chemical Weapon Attack in Idlib (Alexandra Bradford, 5 April 2017): Dr. Abdel Hay Tennari, who treated at least 22 critical victims from the alleged toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, said his patients’ symptoms were consistent with Sarin gas and the field hospital where he works has run out of the antidote.
  • Syrian village hit by suspected chlorine attack hours after US condemns Assad (MEE staff, 6 April 2017): The Syrian government has been accused of carrying out a chlorine attack in Syria, hours after the US had condemned a chemical attack in southern Idlib that killed scores. Video footage shared on social media showed what appeared to be Syrian government helicopters dropping barrels filled with chlorine on the village of al-Lataminah in northern Hama.
  • Russia must explain possible role in chemical attack, top Trump adviser says (Mike DeBonis, 9 April 2017): President Trump’s top national security adviser said Sunday that Russia should be pressed on whether it knew the Syrian regime would carry out a deadly chemical attack against civilians in a rebel-held area last week.
  • Official: Russia knew Syrian chemical attack was coming (Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor, 10 April 2017): The United States has concluded Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week, a senior U.S. official said Monday. The official said a drone operated by Russians was flying over a hospital as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment. Hours after the drone left, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the hospital in what American officials believe was an attempt to cover up the usage of chemical weapons.
  • Syrian War: Your Move Again, President Trump (Wayne White, 10 April 2017): Donald Trump’s grasp of the Syrian War remains highly questionable. Just days before the Syrian chemical weapons (CW) strike on a rebel-held population center, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implied that the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was no longer a US objective. Trump’s news conference beside Jordan’s King Abdullah suggested that the U.S. president had no clue prior to this CW attack about what has been happening in Syria. He produced a litany of slanted half-truths and distortions concerning the course of the war against the Islamic State (ISIS or IS) under President Obama and engaged in extraordinary hubris concerning his ability to solve a host of serious global challenges. Most of these assertions have gone unchallenged amidst the hype following the air strike, as has the overall ineffectiveness of the strike itself.
  • White House Slams Russia For Trying To Cover Up Assad’s Chemical Attacks (S.V. Date, 11 April 2017): While U.S. intelligence has not yet concluded that Russia knew about Syria’s plan to gas civilians ahead of time, senior White House officials said Tuesday that Russia must be pushed on that question. Officials noted the years of close cooperation between the two militaries and the presence of Russian troops at Syrian military bases ― particularly the Shayrat air base that officials said was used to launch the April 4 nerve gas attack that killed close to 100.
  • Medical evidence confirms sarin gas was used in Syria chemical attack (Homeland Security News, 11 April 2017): Turkey’s health minister said that traces of sarin gas have been detected in blood and urine samples from victims injured in the town of Khan Sheikhun in Syria on 4 April, offering “concrete evidence” of its use in the attack. Isopropyl methylphosphonic acid, a chemical which sarin degrades into, was found in the blood and urine samples taken from the patients who arrived in Turkey.
  • Test Results Confirm Sarin Gas Was Used in Syria, Official Says (Bassem Mroue and Philip Issa, 11 April 2017): Turkey’s health minister said Tuesday that test results confirm sarin gas was used in an attack on a northern Syrian town earlier this month and the Russian military said the Syrian government is willing to let international experts examine its military base for signs of chemical weapons.
  • U.S. Lays Out Case For Assad’s Culpability In Chemical Weapons Attack (Camila Domonoske, 11 April 2017): White House officials say the U.S. intelligence community is confident that Syrian President Bashar Assad attacked his own people with chemical weapons on April 4 — and that an alternative explanation offered by Russia is an effort to deflect blame and “confuse the world community.”
  • White House Accuses Russia of Cover-Up in Syria Chemical Attack (Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Helene Cooper, 11 April 2017): The White House accused Russia on Tuesday of engaging in a cover-up of the Syrian government’s role in a chemical weapons attack last week, saying that United States intelligence had confirmed that the Assad regime used sarin gas on its own people. A four-page report drawn up by the National Security Council contains declassified United States intelligence on the attack and a rebuttal of Moscow’s claim that insurgents unleashed the gas to frame the Syrian government. Instead, the White House asserted that Damascus and Moscow had released “false narratives” to mislead the world.
  • Survivors of the Gas Attack in Syria Face Long-Term Illness (R. Douglas Fields, 12 April 2017): Sarin’s lethality is well known, but the lingering effects on victims who don’t succumb are less familiar.
  • Russia ready to grant access to Syria airbase for ‘gas attack’ probe: Defense official (PressTV, 12 April 2017): Russia has said it is ready to provide inspectors with access to a Syrian airbase that the opponents of the Syrian government say was used to carry out a “chemical attack.”
  • US intelligence intercepted communications between Syrian military and chemical experts (Barbara Starr, 13 April 2017): The US military and intelligence community has intercepted communications featuring Syrian military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin attack in Idlib last week, a senior US official tells CNN.
  • Anatomy of a Sarin Bomb Explosion (Dan Kaszeta, 13 April 2017): Part I: The Bomb, its contents, and their likely fate. The recent chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun in Syria is alleged by witnesses to have been delivered by an air-dropped bomb.  The purpose of this article is to systematically break down a Sarin bomb into its components and analyse what happens to them.  This first part addresses the contents of the bomb and how these components interact with the environment.
  • Analysts identify #SyriaHoax as Russian-fueled propaganda (Brian Ross and Megan Christie, 13 April 2017): As Syrian president Bashar al-Assad called videos of last week’s chemical attack a “fabrication,” a piece of propaganda promoted by a Russian cyber operation and bearing the hashtag #SyriaHoax has gained traction in the United States, analysts tell ABC News.
  • Chemical weapons experts in Turkey to investigate; UK confirms sarin use (Anthony Deutsch, 13 April 2017): Global chemical weapons investigators have gone to Turkey to collect samples as part of an inquiry into an alleged chemical weapons attack in neighbouring Syria last week that killed 87 people. The fact-finding mission was sent by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague to gather bio-metric samples and interview survivors, sources told Reuters on Thursday.
  • Assad: Chemical attack is ‘100 percent fabrication’ (Louis Nelson, 13 April 2017): Syrian dictator Bashar Assad said Thursday that allegations that his military carried out a chemical weapons attack last week against a rebel-controlled portion of his own nation are “100 percent fabrication.”
  • Assad says Syria chemical attack that killed dozens is ‘fabrication’ (Emma Graham-Harrison, 13 April 2017): The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has described a chemical attack that killed dozens of people and prompted Donald Trump to launch missile strikes on his country as “a fabrication”. Assad’s claim, made in an interview with Agence France-Presse news agency, effectively dismisses evidence from international chemical weapons experts who found traces of nerve agent in samples from the site of the attack, the town of Khan Sheikhun.
  • Transcript of exclusive AFP interview with Syria’s Assad (AFP, 13 April 2017): In the following AFP interview with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, the questions were asked in English and he replied in English.
  • New Revelations Belie Trump Claims on Syria Chemical Attack (Gareth Porter, 13 April 2017): Two new revelations contradict the Trump administration’s line on the April 4 attack. A former US official knowledgeable about the episode told Truthout that the Russians had actually informed their US counterparts in Syria of the Syrian military’s plan to strike the warehouse in Khan Sheikhoun 24 hours before the strike. And a leading analyst on military technology, Dr. Theodore Postol of MIT, has concluded that the alleged device for a sarin attack could not have been delivered from the air but only from the ground, meaning that the chemical attack may not have been the result of the Syrian airstrike.
  • Trump’s Comprehensive Demolition of Putin Propaganda Trying to Cover Up Assad’s Chemical Attack (Anshel Pfeffer, 13 April 2017): White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s stupid and ignorant remarks Tuesday comparing Syrian President Bashar Assad and Adolf Hitler are naturally dominating the news agenda right now. Which is a huge pity because just before Spicer’s unfortunate briefing, the White House released a four-page backgrounder summarizing the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of last week’s chemical attack on Syrian civilians in Khan Shaikhoun. The paper, along with the transcript of a background briefing given by “senior administration officials” provide not only a detailed explanation of why the Trump administration is convinced that the Assad regime, at its highest levels, directed the attack in which eighty civilians were killed by a sarin nerve agent, but also a comprehensive demolition of Russian propaganda trying to cover it up.
  • UK says Sarin-like gas used in Syria chemical attack (Rebecca Coleman and Angela Dewan, 13 April 2017): British scientists have tested samples from victims of last week’s chemical attack in Syria and claim to have evidence that Sarin gas, or a similar substance, was used in the bombing. A Ministry of Defense spokesperson told CNN on Thursday that the scientists had conducted the tests in British labs on blood and hair samples from victims, collected at Khan Sheikhun in Syria’s idlib province, where 89 people were killed in the April 4 gas attack.
  • Syria ready to provide OPCW investigators access to Shayrat airbase — UN envoy (Tass, 13 April 2017): Syria is ready to provide experts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) access to Shayrat airbase to check whether sarin, which Western countries claim was used during the attack against the city of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, was stored there, Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, told a meeting of the UN Security Council.
  • Assad Words of Non-Involvement in Idlib Chemical Incident ‘Lie’ – French FM (Sputnik, 14 April 2017): French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called on Friday the words of Syrian President Bashar Assad that Damascus was not involved in the chemical incident in Idlib a “100 percent lie and propaganda.”
  • More victims of Assad chemical attack die in Turkey (Middle East Monitor, 14 April 2017): The death toll has risen to six out of dozens of victims rushed to Turkish hospitals after a chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed scores earlier this month, Health Minister Recep Akdag said Friday.  Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Akdag said a total of 34 people were hospitalised in Turkey after the Assad regime attack in Idlib, Syria.
  • Syria chemical attacks: preparing for the unconscionable (John Zarocostas, 15 April 2017): The chemical weapons attack on April 4 in Khan Shaykhun, Idlib province, Syria, drew a global outcry. It also put the spotlight once again on how the endless attacks on health facilities have sapped the abilities of medical personnel to provide life-saving services to civilians trapped in the 6 year civil war. The attack, which WHO said resulted in the deaths of 89 people (including 33 children) and injured 541, is expected to further stretch Syria’s weakened health system.

International response

  • Syria justice held hostage by geopolitics amid gas attack (James Reinl, 5 April 2017): We won’t see any Syrians in the dock soon, experts say, but war criminals have a tougher time dodging justice nowadays.
  • Sarin and sentimentality: Trump and Assad’s emotional chemistry (Charles P. Blair and Brooke V. Higgins, 7 April 2017): Last fall, over a single week in the battle for Aleppo, 96 Syrian children were killed. Across Syria in 2015 and 2016, at least 1,200 children were killed (but possibly many more). Why then, after 27 children died in Tuesday’s alleged chemical attack in the Syrian province of Idlib, did an emotionally charged President Trump, highlighting that “beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,” abruptly reverse his noninterventionist stance on Syria, thrusting the United States into a risky conflict against the Russian-backed government of Bashar al-Assad? Why did Trump, a businessman not widely known for his humanitarian impulses, react with dramatic violence to an incident devoid of any immediate threat to US security or economic interests?  What is it about the use of chemical weapons?
  • We can’t punish Syria and ignore Iran: Assad’s allies have been complicit in his crimes (Benjamin Weinthal, 12 April 2017): The Iranian regime’s role in enabling Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s chemical attacks on civilians last week has sadly been ignored, in part because of Tehran’s accurate assertion that its forces were themselves the victims of nerve agent warfare during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.
  • Syria’s chemical weapons: Investigation needs full access and must happen fast (Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, 12 April 2017): If it moves forward, UN-backed probe into Khan Sheikhun attack needs to learn from the 2013 nerve gas attack to get in and establish the truth.
  • OPCW Executive Council Meets to Address Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic (OPCW, 13 April 2017): On 4 April, reports emerged of the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Khan Sheikhun area of southern Idlib in the Syrian Arab Republic. Today, the Chairperson of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Council, Ambassador Odette Melono of Cameroon in consultation with the Director-General of the OPCW, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, convened a meeting of the Council to discuss these allegations.
  • US berates Syria at OPCW meeting on Syrian chemical attack (Mike Corder, 13 April 2017): Syrian authorities — “abetted by Russia’s continuing efforts to bury the truth” — still possess and use chemical weapons, an American diplomat told the international chemical weapons watchdog on Thursday.
  • Russia submits its proposal to OPCW on extra inspectors in Syria’s Idlib (Tass, 13 April 2013): Russia has submitted its proposal on involving extra inspectors in the investigation into the alleged chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, in Syria’s Idlib, at Thursday’s meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
  • OPCW analyzing samples collected after alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria (Tass, 13 April 2017): The Fact-Finding Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) needs two to three weeks to complete its work concerning the investigation into the alleged chemical weapons incident in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun, OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said on Thursday.
  • Germany and E.U. Allies Condemn Russia, But View its Support as Necessary For ‘Political Solution’ to Syria (James Carstensen, 13 April 2017): Germany and its allies in the G7 have been forced to walk a difficult path in their relationship with Russia – condemning it for its support for the Assad regime, but also acknowledging they need it to broker a “political solution” in Syria. Following the deadly April 4 chemical weapon attack in Syria, Germany and other Western nations rallied against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and supported the retaliatory U.S. missile strike on a Syrian airbase, which has reignited tensions between Washington and Moscow.
  • Why the Syrian Chemical Weapons Problem Is So Hard to Solve (Max Fisher, 13 April 2017): The Trump administration is hoping that its cruise missile strikes will solve a problem that has defied years of efforts: the willingness of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, to use chemical weapons. But in a war with many dilemmas, this may be among the most intractable, analysts say. It is driven by Mr. Assad’s own grim strategy and the limitations of American power, but also something deeper: the fundamental nature of the Syrian conflict and of chemical weaponry.
  • Trust for OPCW mission continues to dwindle, Russian diplomat says (Tass, 14 April 2017): The trust for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)’s mission continues to dwindle and skepticism over the work of its specialists grows, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Friday.
  • Lavrov Outlines Russia’s Dissatisfaction With OPCW Mission in Syria – Ryabkov (Sputnik, 14 April 2017): Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has outlined Moscow’s dissatisfaction in a letter to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu with its fact-finding mission into the reported April 4 chemical attack in Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said.
  • Envoy to OPCW calls for dispatch of fact-finding committee to Syria (Mehrnews, 14 April 2017): Alireza Jahangiri, Iran’s envoy to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said on Thursday, that Iran demands that a professional and impartial international team, comprised of the best international experts, conduct comprehensive field research on the latest incidents in Syria to investigate how chemical weapons were delivered to terrorists in Syria.
  • Russia calls to stop politicizing OPCW activities (Tass, 14 April 2017): Russia believes it is necessary to stop politicizing the work of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), since this is dangerous for its integrity, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW, Alexander Shulgin, told TASS on Friday.
  • Russia-Turkey agree to support OPCW investigation into Syria attack (Hurriyet, 14 April 2017): President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the latest developments in Syria by phone on April 13 and agreed to support an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) into the use of chemical weapons in northern Syria.
  • How long can the UN endure the shame of chemical attacks on Syrian citizens? (Jean-Marc Ayrault and Boris Johnson, 14 April 2017): We deeply regret that on 12 April the UN security council was unable to demonstrate unity. Together with the United States, we had proposed a resolution that condemned this chemical attack and reaffirmed its unbiased support to the investigation team of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). It was simple and balanced. Russia vetoed it – its eighth veto on Syria since 2011. This veto was accompanied with a catalogue of false claims meant to sow doubts about the regime’s responsibility.
  • Russia hopes investigation in Idlib will begin no later than April 22 (Tass, 14 April 2017): Russia hopes that the mission of international experts to investigate the incident in Idlib will begin work in Syria no later than April 22, Russian Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Alexander Shulgin, said at an extraordinary meeting of the OPCW Executive Council.
  • Turkey seeks cooperation with Russia, US on Syria to leave differences aside: Turkish FM (Hurriyet, 14 April 2017): Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said he hopes U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow will focus on the future of Syria rather than Washington and Moscow’s own narrow interests, noting that Turkey wants to continue cooperation with Russia and the United States to resolve the Syrian crisis despite some differences of opinion.
  • Chemical Weapons Must Not Be Used – Ever (Sergio Duarte, former UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, 14 April 2017): In the current stage of evolution of international law and universally accepted norms of civilised behaviour, the use of any weapon of mass destruction by any actor whatsoever affronts the conscience of mankind and cannot be tolerated.
  • Lavrov: U.S. is guarantor of Syria’s chemical disarmament just as Russia (Tass, 14 April 2017): Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has recalled that the United States, just as Russia, is a guarantor of Syria’s chemical disarmament, and the very instance of chemical weapons elimination was stated “in bold print” in an OPCW report.
  • Chemical Weapons Should Not Be Used: India on Syria Attack (PTI, 14 April 2017): India on Thursday reacted cautiously to the recent chemical attack in Syria, saying its consistent position is that the use of chemical weapons by anyone anywhere under any circumstances should not happen. It added that perpetrators of such an act should be held accountable.
  • Doha ready to provide security for OPCW inspectors in Syria (Tass, 15 Aprl 2017): Doha is ready to provide support in security of inspectors from the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in Syria, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani said during a news conference on Saturday after talks with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
  • Iran Blasts West for Supporting Terrorists in Syria (Fars News, 15 April 2017): Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blasted the West for supporting the terrorists in Syria and supplying them with chemical weapons.

UN Security Council debates

  • Syria: New Draft Resolution on Chemical Weapons Attack and Political Briefing (What’s In Blue, 11 April 2017): Tomorrow (12 April), Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura is expected to provide the Security Council with the monthly briefing on the political situation in Syria. This briefing takes place after a week of intense diplomatic activity on Syria among Council members, largely focused on the 4 April chemical weapons attack in the Khan Shaykhun area of Idlib, which claimed the lives of at least 72 civilians and was followed by retaliatory airstrikes by the US on 6 April on the Shayrat airbase outside of Homs.
  • Russia blocks Security Council action on reported use of chemical weapons in Syria’s Khan Shaykhun (UNO, 12 April 2017): With a ‘no’ vote from permanent member Russia, the United Nations Security Council today failed to adopt a resolution that would have condemned the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria and called on the Government to cooperate with an investigation into the incident.
  • Syria chemical attack: Sarin gas was used in Khan Sheikhoun strike, says UK ambassador to UN (Samuel Osborne, 12 July 2017): British scientists have found sarin in samples taken from the site of an alleged chemical gas attack in Syria. Britain’s UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the UN Security Council samples taken from the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun and analysed by British scientists tested positive for sarin or a sarin-like substance.
  • Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko’s response to a media question (Russia Embassy, UK, 12 April 2017): What is missing is the will of our Western partners to establish the truth, to get to the bottom of it. We’ve got to understand that they have already acted militarily and diplomatically (in Lucca) on the basis of their narrative to which they are politically bound.
  • Russia Vetoes U.N. Resolution Condemning Syria Chemical Attack (Somini Sengupta, 12 April 2017): The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, signaled on Wednesday morning that the Trump administration wanted to work with Russia to end the war in Syria. A few hours later, Ms. Haley drew a line in the diplomatic sand, forcing Russia to use its veto for an eighth time on a Syria resolution in the United Nations Security Council.
  • Russia vetoes UN resolution on Syria (Richard Roth, 13 April 2017): The UN Security Council failed Wednesday to so much as condemn last week’s chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Syria. Russia vetoed a UN resolution condemning the killings, believed to have been carried out with sarin gas, and calling on Moscow ally Syria to cooperate with an international investigation of events on the ground. It was the eighth Russian veto of a resolution on Syria throughout the course of its civil war.
  • After abstaining on UN Syria vote, China backs political fix (Associated Press, 13  April 2017): China’s foreign minister said Thursday that the conflict in Syria needs to be addressed through a political settlement after Beijing abstained from a U.N. resolution condemning the reported use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government.
  • China prefers unanimous UN support for chemical weapons investigation (Rudaw, 14 April 2017): Disagreeing with Britain, France and the United States on how an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) would be conducted in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun, Russia blocked and China abstained from voting for a draft United Nations Security Council resolution preemptively declaring the attack to be chemical in nature. Ten countries voted in favor, Russia and Bolivia against, with China, Kazakhstan and Ethiopia abstaining.

US retaliatory strikes

  • Military Strikes on Syria: Historical Lessons and Implications (Michael Eisenstadt, 7 April 2017): Assad’s track record indicates that he will likely continue challenging the chemical redline, and that additional strikes and other pressures may be necessary to deter him from doing so.
  • Those visiting Shayrat see no traces of chemical weapons there – Defense Ministry (Tass, 8 April 2017): Dozens of people, who visited the Shayrat base in Syria after the U.S. Strike, did not see there any traces of chemical weapons, spokesman of the Russian Defense Ministry Major-General Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday.
  • The Syria Strike Was International Security Theater (Theresa Hitchens, 9 April 2017): We are all familiar with the phrase “security theater.” Those people-scanning machines at airports that work less than half of the time but cost local airports millions, not to mention waste everyone’s time at the airport? A border wall that will do nothing to lower crime, or bring back jobs to the U.S. working class? Both are examples of security theater: actions designed to look as if they will keep us safer, while actually doing nothing of the sort.
  • Wag The Dog — How Al Qaeda Played Donald Trump And The American Media (Scott Ritter, 9 April 2017): Once upon a time, Donald J. Trump, the New York City businessman-turned-president, berated then-President Barack Obama back in September 2013 about the fallacy of an American military strike against Syria.  At that time, the United States was considering the use of force against Syria in response to allegations (since largely disproven) that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. Trump, via tweet, declared “to our very foolish leader, do not attack Syria – if you do many very bad things will happen & from that fight the U.S. gets nothing!”
  • Obama’s Syria strike plan was much bigger than Trump’s (Josh Rogin, 9 April 2017): The Trump administration’s strike on one of Bashar al-Assad’s air bases was similar in style and objectives to the strike plan that President Barack Obama prepared in 2013 — except that Obama’s attacks were to be several times bigger than President Trump’s. At the time, leading Republicans mocked the Obama administration for what it called “pinprick” strikes, calling them ineffective. Today they praise Trump’s smaller strikes as perfectly calculated.
  • For Trump, alleged use of sarin in Syria prompted a different reaction than other chemical weapons (Dan Lamothe, 12 April 2017): The Trump administration’s effort to underscore its certainty that Syria carried out a chemical weapons attack has demonstrated a potential new U.S. policy: The use of nerve agents such as sarin will prompt a military response, even if it’s less certain that unleashing other chemical weapons, such as chlorine, will. The April 4 attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of men, women and children, and deeply upset the president after he saw images of the aftermath, he said last week. Senior U.S. officials began preparing a military response by the next day, and dozens of Tomahawk missiles launched from Navy destroyers slammed into the Shayrat air base in Syria about 3:30 a.m. Friday local time.
  • It Didn’t Have to Be This Way: Finding Leverage in Syria (Aaron Stein, 12 April 2017): The execution of Assad’s April 4 chemical weapons attack was a textbook use of these weapons. This suggests that the decision to use them was military in nature, not a complicated exercise in signaling to the outside world. Reported Russian military activity in the area clearly implicates Moscow as one of two things: either an impotent and clueless backer of the Syria regime, incapable of monitoring the activities of an air force it is co-located with, or party to a war crime. At President Donald Trump’s order, a barrage of cruise missiles collided with the Syrian air base that was purportedly the source of the chemical attack on Kahn Sheikhoun. This use of force has been widely praised and hailed as a potential turning point in the Syrian conflict. However, the use of limited cruise missile strikes to change state behavior has a poor historical track record. It is too early to tell if the strikes will contribute to the immediate goal of deterring future chemical weapon use in Syria or even a second goal now articulated by some members of the Trump administration: forcing Russia to reevaluate its support for Bashar al Assad.
  • Reading Iran’s Reaction To US Missile Strikes In Syria (Ehnam Ben Taleblu, 14 April 2017): Government officials from the Syrian Arab Republic and Islamic Republic of Iran admonished the move. Such censures nonetheless provide insight into Iran’s framing of the war in Syria, as well as the methods of argumentation Iran has long used to support the Assad regime. As always, vitriolic anti-Americanism featured prominently in Tehran’s diplomatic response. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, called the strike a “strategic mistake.” He also ominously warned that the US was about “to repeat their past mistakes” in the region. “Former American officials created DAESH or helped it, and current American officials are in a state of strengthening DAESH or groups like it,” he alleged.

Status of CW disarmament in Syria

  • Revisiting the Obama track record on Syria’s chemical weapons (Jon Greenberg, 5 April 2017): Syria had agreed in 2013 to an ambitious program to destroy its chemical stockpiles under international supervision, as part of a deal brokered by Russia. When Kerry spoke in July 2014, the process seemed far along. Based on reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — which later won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts — we rated that claim Mostly True. There were caveats about incomplete information, but at the time, international experts said the claim largely held up. Given recent events, we have pulled that fact-check (you can read an archived version here) because we now have many unanswered questions.
  • Former National Security Council Coordinator Reflects On Obama’s Syria Policy (Michel Martin, 8 April 2017): Former National Security Council coordinator for the Middle East, Philip Gordon reflects on U.S. foreign policy in Syria during the Obama administration, and the continued conflict in the country.
  • For Obama, Syria Chemical Attack Shows Risk of ‘Deals With Dictators’ (Peter Baker, 9 April 2017): When it came time to make his case for the judgment of history, President Barack Obama had a ready rebuttal to one of the most cutting critiques of his time in office. Although friends and foes alike faulted him for not following through on his threat to retaliate when Syria gassed its own people in 2013, Mr. Obama would counter that he had actually achieved a better result through an agreement with President Bashar al-Assad to surrender all of his chemical weapons. After last week, even former Obama aides assume that he will have to rethink that passage in his memoir.
  • Susan Rice’s claim that Obama got Syria to ‘verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile’ (Glenn Kessler, 10 April 2017):  The reality is that there were continued chemical-weapons attacks by Syria — and that U.S. and international officials had good evidence that Syria had not been completely forthcoming in its declaration and possibly retained sarin and VX nerve agent. Yet Rice said: “We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.” She did not explain that Syria’s declaration was believed to be incomplete and thus was not fully verified — and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement. That tipped her wordsmithing toward a Four. Four Pinocchios.
  • The Democrats’ arms-control agenda is a failure (Marc A. Thiessen, 10 April 2017):  In January, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, declared: “We were able to get the Syrian government to voluntarily and verifiably give up its chemical weapons stockpile.” Obama, she boasted, was able to “deal with the threat of chemical weapons by virtue of . . . diplomacy” and “in a way that the use of force would never have accomplished.” Tell that to the children of Idlib, their lifeless eyes dilated from exposure to an apparent nerve agent that the Obama administration assured us the Assad regime no longer possessed.
  • Last two chemical weapons facilities in Syria belong to rebels: OPCW (Leith Fadel, 11 April 2017): Experts from Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed the destruction of 10 out of 12 chemical weapons facilities in Syria, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported on Tuesday. According to these experts, the only 2 chemical weapons facilities that were not destroyed were currently inside opposition-controlled territory.
  • Harf Scrambles to Defend Obama-Era Syria Chemical Weapons Deal, Says It Was Not ‘Perfect’ (Cameron Cawthorne, 12 April 2017): Marie Harf, a Fox News contributor and former spokeswoman for Secretary of State John Kerry, scrambled on Wednesday to defend the Obama-era Syria deal from 2013, admitting it was not “perfect.”
  • Syria teaches a lesson about cheating on arms control (Editorial Board, 12 April 2017): ARMS CONTROL is a method to lock up dangerous weapons, but it has always depended on the political will of states to comply with their commitments. When the Cold War superpowers found it in their interest to reduce nuclear weapons in a way that was verifiable, they did; when they did not, the arms race zoomed ahead. The use of a nerve agent to kill civilians in Syria recently is another reminder. Dictator Bashar al-Assad and his regime relinquished a large stockpile of chemical weapons under pressure but concealed some, or made new stocks, to eventually kill again, possibly with the connivance of Russia and Iran. The arms-control agreement Damascus signed did not protect the civilians who were murdered.
  • Bashar al-Assad still has ‘hundreds of tonnes’ of chemicals stockpiled, former Syrian weapons research chief claims (Josie Ensor, 14 April 2017): President Bashar al-Assad continues to retain hundreds of tonnes of his country’s chemical stockpile after deceiving United Nations inspectors sent in to dismantle it, according to Syria’s former chemical weapons research chief and other experts.
  • Assad Maneuvers to Turn the ‘Chemical Table’ (Saeed Abdelrazek and Caroline Akoum, 14 April 2017): As Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), along with members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), were expected in Turkey on Thursday as part of their inquiry into the chemical attack that hit the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun last week, the regime of Bashar Assad sought to maneuver and turn the table by accusing the “International Coalition” of killing a large number of civilians in an airstrike on a village east the city of Deir Ezzor two days ago.

Other CW allegations in Syria

CBW disarmament

  • Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons delegates visit chemical weapons destruction facility in Kentucky (HPN News Desk, 12 April 2017): A delegation from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) recently visited the Blue Grass Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility (CWDF) in Kentucky after receiving an invitation from U.S. officials.
  • Why the World Banned Chemical Weapons (Mark Perry, 13 April 2017): Yes, it’s because they’re morally hideous. But it’s also because they don’t work.
  • OPCW’s Twenty Years of Experience Hold Salient Lessons for Future (OPCW, 13 April 2017): Recounting two decades of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) achievements, the Organisation’s Deputy Director-General, Mr Hamid Ali Rao, drew a clear vision of the future, in which the OPCW is agile and effective in tackling new challenges. This message was part of Mr Rao’s keynote address at the International Conference on Chemical Disarmament and Security: The OPCW’s Contributions to Global Peace and Security, held in Doha, Qatar, from 10-11 April.
  • OPCW’s Üzümcü provides update to Organization of American States’ Committee Against Terrorism (HPN News Desk, 14 April 2017): The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü recently addressed the 17th Regular Session of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism (CICTE), part of the Organization of American States (OAS), to discuss OPCW’s goals for the full implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • The OPCW: ridding the world of chemical weapons (Jo Biddle, 15 April 2017): Russia has criticised the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, for not sending experts to the site of an alleged chemical attack in Syria. But the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is in a difficult position, with its scientists and experts undertaking a dangerous mission in an ongoing war zone.

CBW armament

  • North Korea may be capable of sarin-tipped missiles: Japan PM (Reuters, 13 April 2017): North Korea may have the capacity to deliver missiles equipped with sarin nerve gas, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday, amid concerns that the reclusive state could soon conduct its sixth nuclear test or more missile launches.

Other allegations of CBW use

  • Lawyers for Women in Kim Jong-nam Case Say They Were Scapegoated (Richard C. Paddock, 13 April 2017): The two women who claim they were tricked into assassinating the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader appeared in court Thursday, where their lawyers argued that Malaysia’s decision to free three North Korean suspects ended any chance of bringing the real culprits to justice.
  • Women accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam face a judge (CBSNews, 13 April 2017): Handcuffed and facing the judge, two young women accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam appeared in court Thursday as their lawyers said Malaysian police still have not handed over security camera footage and documents crucial to the defense.

History

  • Sean Spicer Apologizes For Holocaust Remarks (Mollie Reilly, 11 April 2017): White House press secretary Sean Spicer apologized Tuesday for his remarks on the Holocaust, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that his comments during a White House press briefing were a “mistake.”
  • The Spicer Effect: Anti-Chemical Weapons Organization Edits Itself About Gas Use in WW2 (Lukas Mikelionis, 12 April 2017): The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has edited its page and removed the claim that chemical weapons were never used during World War 2 shortly after the controversy exploded over White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments about Hitler’ use of chemical weapons.
  • Hitler and Chemical Weapons (Robert Farley and Lori Robertson, 12 April 2017): White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has apologized profusely for his much-criticized comparison of Syria’s Bashar Assad to Adolf Hitler, but his clarification that he meant Hitler did not drop chemical bombs from airplanes requires some historical context. The Nazis manufactured and stockpiled thousands of tons of chemical munitions. While Hitler never employed them in battle, historians say that was largely for tactical reasons. Spicer was skewered in the media for his initial comment — he said that Hitler “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.” As multiple news outlets quickly pointed out, Hitler had killed millions of Jews and others in concentration camp gas chambers during the Holocaust.
  • Did Hitler fake being a victim of gas warfare? (Matt Lebovic, 13 April 2017): Almost a century ago, an injured German corporal named Adolf Hitler claimed to be a casualty of British-deployed mustard gas. But was it a smoke screen?
  • What We Can Learn from Spicer’s Gaffes (Mitchell Plitnick, 14 April 2017): White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has a difficult job. Turning Donald Trump’s messages into comprehensible, even respectable, public statements is a tough go. But even taking that into account, his performance has been terrible, and on Tuesday, he hit a new low.
    Spicer kicked his day off by stating that “Hitler didn’t sink to using chemical weapons.” Yes, you read that right. Hitler never employed chemical agents to kill helpless civilians.
    But gaffes happen. One reporter gave Spicer a chance, asking him to clarify the remark. Spicer thanked her for the opportunity…and proceeded to make the matter even worse.

CBW defence, protection and preparedness

  • Enzymes versus nerve agents: Designing antidotes for chemical weapons (Ian Haydon, 11 April 2017): There is a path to mitigate the danger of chemical weapons. This route lies within the domains of science – the very same science that produced chemical weapons in the first place. Researchers in the United States and around the world are developing the tools needed to quickly and safely destroy nerve agents – both in storage facilities and in the human body. There are promising advances, but no enzyme yet exists which is efficient enough for lifesaving use in people. It is worth keeping in mind the awesome and often complex power of science, however: We may be only a few years away from developing the kind of therapeutics that would make chemical weapons a worry of the past.
  • SwRI-Developed Mobile System to Destroy Dangerous Chemical Warfare Agents on Site (Business Wire, 14 April 2017): Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) helped develop and recently completed initial testing of a field-deployable treatment system that destroys chemical warfare agents (CWAs) using locally available resources. The modular unit, designed to fit into a large shipping container for easy transport, includes two pollution abatement configurations – one wet and one dry process – that can be deployed depending on the available resources of the location.
This entry was posted in Biological, Chemical, Press on by .

About JP Zanders

Jean Pascal Zanders (Belgium) has worked on questions of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) armament and disarmament since 1986. He was CBW Project Leader at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Director of the BioWeapons Prevention Project and Senior Research Fellow responsible for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation questions at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. He now owns and runs The Trench.