Thursday, 19 September 2013

SYRIA: Where Assad got chemical weapons?

On Monday, UN weapons inspectors presented their conclusions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria on Aug. 21. The evidence, says Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, is "overwhelming and indisputable." Now it is undisputable that Syria has and used chemical weapons. The next question in mind of many is: Where did the Syrian regime get its large stores of chemical weapons?

Last month, it was revealed by the UK newspaper ''Daily Mail'' that the UK government approved the license for UK firms to supply chemical to Syria-- a clear breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances that has been condemned as ‘grossly irresponsible’.

The UK firms, with the backing of UK government, delivered sodium fluoride to a  Syrian cosmetics company for what they claim were legitimate purposes. But intelligence experts believe President Assad’s regime uses such companies to divert chemicals into its weapons programme.

UK Business Secretary Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) approved the export licenses last January, about 10 months after the Syria civil war began. The chemicals were to be used for industrial purposes. The licenses were revoked six months later only after the European Union (EU) imposed sanctions.

It seems now that the UK is not the only supplier of Assad's chemical weapons. German officials have confirmed today that Berlin sent chemicals to Syria that could potentially be used to make sarin gas. The government stressed, however, that it is confident the “dual-use” chemicals were not used for military purposes.

The chemicals included hydrogen fluoride, sodium fluoride and ammonium hydrogen fluoride, which require special export permits (so-called "dual-use" permits) because they can be used for either civilian or military purposes, including the production of deadly sarin. The first set of deliveries was made in 2002-2003, under the center-left government of Gerhard Schroeder. The second was made in 2005-2006, under the current center-right incumbents.

Beyond Europe, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea seems to be Assad’s main supplier.
Since mid-1990s, the North Koreans have been selling missile components and providing equipment and expertise for Syria’s nascent nuclear weapons program, so it should come as no surprise that they are participating in Assad’s chemical weapons efforts as well.

The North has supplied parts, such as vacuum dryers, and technical expertise, especially in connection with synthesizing chemicals and fabricating warheads. Along with other states, North Korea has, in all probability, sold chemical precursors as Syria lacks the capability of producing many of them.

In November 2009, Greece found four shipping containers with 13,000 protective suits in a Liberian-flagged vessel en route to Syria. Damascus claims that the garments were for agricultural and research purposes, but they were also designed for handing chemical weapons. And if there were any doubt about the purpose for the suits, there were 23,600 gas detectors in the containers. The garments were identical to those confiscated the preceding month in Busan, in South Korea, on a Panamanian ship that left Nampo, North Korea, for Latakia, Syria’s principal port. The UN believes the two incidents are related.

Pyongyang is also providing '' after-sales services'' to Assad, even putting its personnel close to the front lines. North Korean officers, for instance, have been spotted around Aleppo. The location is significant because in mid-March allegations of chemical weapons use near that northern city surfaced.

UN's report details in relation with the sarin attack on civilians, outside the Syrian capital Damascus on August 21, point the finger to Assad. Assad violated international norms in relation with the use of chemical weapons, but the United Kingdom, Germany and North Korea (possibly) also violated international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances to Syria, regardless of the purpose of the trade.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- UN weapons inspectors take samples in Syria in August 2013.