US concerned about Syrian chemical arms

US concerned about Syrian chemical arms

The United States is concerned about the fate of Syria’s suspected stocks of chemical weapons and thousands of shoulder-fired missiles

By (AFP)

Published: Wed 15 Feb 2012, 10:55 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 10:50 AM

WASHINGTON — The United States is concerned about the fate of Syria’s suspected stocks of chemical weapons and thousands of shoulder-fired missiles if the regime collapses, US officials said Friday.

The United States also believes that Russia and Iran are shipping conventional weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to help crush pro-democracy protests, State Department officials told reporters.

“Syria has got some similarities (with Libya) but a much more difficult situation,” Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation, told reporters.

Countryman, whose bureau is also in charge of Libya, said Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile is now secure.

“We have long been aware of Syria’s chemical weapons program. It is one of the few countries in the world that has not signed the chemical weapons convention,” said Countryman.

But neither he nor Rose Gottemoeller, acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security, would say how many chemical weapons they believe Syria has or where they are located.

“We have ideas as to quantity. We have ideas as to where they are,” Gottemoeller said without giving detail.

Countryman outlined some of the concerns about what would happen when the Assad regime falls.

“When you get to a change of regime in Syria... it matters a great deal what are the conditions, whether it is chaotic or a fairly orderly transfer,” he said.

But Countryman said: “We would certainly be prepared to work with any successor government to help them secure, control those weapons with the goal of destroying them.”

Countryman said the United States also suspected Syria possessed “tens of thousands” of portable shoulder-fired missiles which could target civilian aircraft if they fell into “terrorist hands.”

“Whether it’s more or less, we’re not certain,” he said, referring to the so-called Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).

Countryman recalled that an estimated 20,000 such missiles existed in Libya and it was impossible to account for all of them.

“At this point, we do wish simply to have the neighbors of Syria do some of the same prudential planning that the neighbors of Libya are doing,” he said.

As Syria’s neighbors monitor refugees and weapons smuggling, so too they should “be on the lookout as well and be aware that a diffusion of these chemical weapons or MANPADS can be a threat to their security,” he said.

Countryman said Iran is supplying “conventional weapons” to Syria that can be used to crush pro-democracy protests, as activists say more than 6,000 people have been killed since a crackdown began in March.

“Iran is resupplying Syria just as it has supplied Syria for some time,” he said without saying how many or what kind of weapons were being delivered.

Countryman also said Russia was delivering weapons to Syria that can be used against protesters.

“We don’t believe that the Russian shipment of weapons to Syria is in the interests of finding a peaceful resolution,” he said.

Last month the State Department pressed Moscow on a reported deal to sell Syria fighter jets, something Washington described as “quite concerning.”

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