U.S., Jordan Eye Syria Chemical-Weapons Stocks
The American and Jordanian militaries are jointly developing plans to secure what is believed to be Syria’s vast stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, said U.S. and Arab officials briefed on the discussions.
The groundwork comes amid mounting concerns about Damascus’s arsenal of nerve agents and mustard gas at a time of growing instability in the country. One plan would call for Jordanian Special Operations units, acting as part of any broader Arab League peacekeeping mission, to go into Syria to secure nearly a dozen sites thought to contain weapons, these officials said.
A high-level delegation of Jordanian defense officials visited the Pentagon late last month to discuss the threat of Syrian weapons of mass destruction and other security issues, said officials from both governments.
U.S. officials stressed that Washington and Amman don’t foresee unilateral commando raids inside Syria, due to the potential for direct conflict with President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces. But they said that locating and securing the sites will be a central part of any peacekeeping mission that is eventually allowed into the country.
“Anything of that nature has to be done in a permissive environment,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on the discussions with the Jordanians. “If you do not have a permissive environment, you will have a hard time getting anyone to go in… No one is going to want to fight their way in through bad stuff, like chem and bio weapons.”
The threat posed by Syria’s weapons of mass destruction has emerged as among the most pressing issues the Obama administration faces as it works with its European and Mideast allies to fashion a response to the worsening conflict inside the Arab country.
Syria is believed to have one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons and is one of only seven nations that didn’t sign the 1992 Chemical Weapons Convention, the arms-control agreement that outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of such weapons. Other non-signatories include Israel, North Korea, Myanmar and Egypt.