UNITED NATIONS – Syria took the first step Thursday toward joining the Chemical Weapons Convention after its most important ally, Russia, convinced Damascus to accept a U.S. offer to destroy its chemical stockpiles and avoid the threat of U.N. military strikes.
U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said Friday that the documents submitted to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by Syria are still being reviewed to determine whether President Bashar Assad's government has provided enough information. If not, it could be asked for additional material. When the secretary-general is satisfied, the so-called "instrument of accession" will be deposited at the United Nations and Syria will become a party to the convention 30 days later.
Q: WHAT IS THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION?
The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction. It prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by countries that are parties to the convention. These countries, in turn, are required to enforce the prohibitions on their territory.
HOW DID THE CONVENTION COME ABOUT?
Talks about a convention banning chemical weapons began in 1968. The Conference on Disarmament, the world's only multilateral forum for negotiating multilateral arms control and disarmament agreements, submitted the text of the Chemical Weapons Convention to the U.N. General Assembly in September 1992. The assembly approved the convention on Nov. 30, 1992 and the convention was opened for signature on Jan. 13, 1993. It entered into force on April 29, 1997 following ratification by 65 countries. The convention expands on the Geneva Protocol of 1925 for chemical weapons, and includes extensive verification measures.
WHO IS PARTY TO THE CONVENTION AND WHO IS NOT?
At present, 189 countries are parties to Chemical Weapons Convention. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is responsible for implementing the convention, says these states parties represent about 98 percent of the global population and land mass as well as 98 percent of the worldwide chemical industry.
There are seven countries that are not parties to the convention. Israel and Myanmar both signed the convention in 1993 but have not taken the next step to become a party. Angola, North Korea, Egypt, Somalia and until Thursday, Syria, have taken no steps to join the convention.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SYRIA JOINS THE CONVENTION?
Under Article 3 of the convention, once a country becomes a party to the convention it must submit a number of declarations to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, known as the OPCW, "no later than 30 days" after it becomes a full member.
Syria has to declare in detail "the precise location, aggregate quantity and detailed inventory" of all chemical weapons, report any chemical weapons on its territory owned by another state, declare whether it has transferred any chemical weapons since 1946, and "provide its general plan for destruction of chemical weapons." It must also provide details of all production facilities on its territory and actions to close them.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER SYRIA MAKES ITS DECLARATIONS?
Inspectors from the organization, based in The Hague, Netherlands will then travel to Syria to make a detailed inventory of the quantity and identity of chemicals involved and the type and number of munitions that could be used to spread the weapons. It can also carry out spot checks — at 48 hours' notice — in member states to ensure that no chemical weapons are removed before destruction. Syria will have to set up a national authority to liaise with the organization. It must also submit annual declarations on its stockpiles.
WHAT HAS THE CHEMICAL WEAPON CONVENTION ACCOMPLISHED?
From 1997 until July 31, the OPCW says it conducted 5,167 inspections in 86 countries. It says 100 percent of the declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been inventoried and verified and 100 percent of the declared chemical weapons production facilities have been inactivated. "All are subject to a verification regime of unprecedented stringency," the OPCW says.
WHAT ARE THE HURDLES?
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are meeting in Geneva to discuss how to put Syria's chemical stockpile and precursors under international control. There are major differences on how fast this should happen and what to do in the event of non-compliance.
Kerry has rejected a Syrian pledge to begin a "standard process" by turning over information rather than weapons — and nothing immediately. He has demanded immediate action. Lavrov has rejected U.S. and French demands for a legally binding U.N. resolution with "very severe consequences" for non-compliance under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which is militarily enforceable.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder contributed to this report from The Hague, Netherlands