Syria charges Israel is leading WMD producer in region

Friday, April 18, 2003

CAIRO Syria plans to oppose U.S. or international inspection efforts of the Arab state's weapons of mass destruction arsenal.

Instead, Syria has accused Israel of being the leading WMD producer in the Middle East. Israel has signed the CWC, but has not ratified it.

Syria plans to pursue a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council that would convert the Middle East into a WMD free zone.

Nonproliferation experts have warned that the dismantling of Syria's WMD arsenal would be extremely difficult without addressing Israel's purported chemical and nuclear weapons.

Joseph Cirincione, director of the nonproliferation project of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told a seminar on Thursday that the search for WMD in Iraq and the surrounding region must be a U.S. priority. He said the U.S. goal to remove WMD from Syria and other Arab countries can only succeed if Israel is included in the effort.

"No, Syria will not allow any inspection operations, but rather will cooperate with world states to rid the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk A-Shaara said. "It will only contribute, with its Arab brothers and the countries of the whole world to transforming the Middle East into a region devoid of all weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological or nuclear."

A-Shaara made the statement on Thursday after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The foreign minister said Syria is prepared to lead an effort for a WMD-free Middle East.

For a decade, Syria has refused to join an international effort to stop the production of chemical weapons. Syria has neither signed nor ratified the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Damascus has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The United States has accused Syria of harboring Iraqi WMD scientists. These scientists were said to have led Iraq's biological and nuclear programs.

Last week, the CIA reported that Syria sought chemical weapons components and expertise and has maintained a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin.

The report said Syria also has sought to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents.

"Syria remained dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its CW program, including precursor chemicals and key production equipment," the CIA report on proliferation said. "It is highly probable that Syria also is continuing to develop an offensive BW capability."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to discuss Syria's WMD free zone when he arrives in Damascus over the next few weeks.

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