SYRIA: U.S. knows where chemical weapons are, fears complete breakdown
By: James Rosen
Interviews with current and former Obama administration officials have confirmed that U.S. and allied intelligence agencies know where most of the Syrian regime’s chemical and biological weapons are – even as U.S. policymakers consider worst-case scenarios in which Syria suffers a complete breakdown of authority marked by severe sectarian tension and a move to partition the country.
To forestall such scenarios, U.S. officials told Fox News that in their “intense and ongoing” contacts with Syrian opposition leaders, which continued overnight, they have been stressing to the rebels that respect for the rights of minorities – including Alawites and Christians – must be a hallmark of any post-Assad era. At the same time, Obama administration officials made clear that outside powers are not in a position to “dictate what comes next” in Syria and, equally important, cannot be perceived as attempting to do so.
American diplomats are working through the Friends of Syria group and with allied nations like Israel, Turkey, France, and Great Britain to build a “network of support” for post-Assad Syria, such that the fledgling state, wracked by civil war and a badly damaged economy, can maintain basic governmental institutions and thereby preserve some measure of centralized authority over various sects and provinces.
As for the stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that comprise the paramount current concern for the West, a senior administration official told Fox News “we monitor very closely their chemical weapons.” A former Obama administration official who worked on Mideast issues agreed: “We have a pretty good fix on where most of them are.”
At a news briefing at the State Department, spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters the administration still does not know the whereabouts of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Asked if the airing on state-run television of footage purporting to show Assad at swearing-in his new defense minister, former Army chief of staff General Fahd Jassem al-Freij, did not help resolve the uncertainty over Assad’s status and whereabouts, Ventrell said he could not comment further.