What it means for Syria
Big uncertainties remain over how international operatives will go about securing the Syrian cache, as well as where and how it will be destroyed.
Those questions appeared to weigh heavily this month on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. Construction is under way on a chemical weapons oxidation facility at the Blue Grass Army Depot in his state.
“As we’ve seen in my own state,” Mr. McConnell said during a Sept. 10 appearance on the Senate floor, “destroying chemical weapons is extremely challenging and requires a great deal of attention to detail and safety.”
In offering tepid support for the deal between Moscow and Washington, the senator reminded his colleagues that the path to “eventually securing, and destroying” Syria’s stockpile is “still a long way off.”
While the U.S.-Russia deal has won praise from both sides of the aisle in Washington, some lawmakers have been downright scornful.
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, has been one of the more vocal critics, claiming Moscow simply cannot be trusted on the chemical weapons front.
“It is especially troubling that Russia is taking the lead in Syria when it has repeatedly failed to comply with its own international commitments,” Mr. Barrasso said in a statement exclusive to The Times. “Russia has proven time and time again that we can’t trust them — and that they aren’t working in our best interests.”
The Sept. 14 framework agreement reached between Washington and Moscow calls for the complete “removal and destruction” of Syria’s chemicals weapons by the “first half of 2014.”
Mr. Collina, at the Arms Control Association, says the timeline is ambitious, but could be met if international operatives move quickly to collect and then ship Syria’s weapons to a third nation. “They’ve got this option of taking the stuff out of the country, so you could reasonably do that by the end of next year,” he said.
According to Mr. Lewis, at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, the most likely destination is Russia, which means a ripple effect can be expected with regard to Russia’s chemical weapons destruction operations. “If it goes to Russia, they’d be using their existing destruction facilities and that would set them back even further,” he said.
But, Mr. Collina said, such concerns should not be a factor right now. “The biggest priority is to either destroy these materials in Syria or remove them from Syria as soon as possible,” he said. “The fact that it might slow down the chemical weapons destruction in some other country such as the U.S. or Russia would be an acceptable price to pay.”