Analysts weigh in on Assad chemical threat

Dmitri Trenin

Diplomats and analysts are voicing their opinions on the recent announcement by the Syrian regime that chemical weapons are present in the country and could be used against foreign aggressors if necessary.

Salman al-Shaikh, a representative of the Brookings Doha center, said that the announcement may be an attempt by the regime to dispel international alarm that could lead to outside intervention to secure the chemical arsenal, Reuters reports.

“They have a keen instinct for regime survival and this is an issue which didn’t play well for them, which would really bring serious consequences, not the type of stuff we have been seeing so far from the international community,” Al-Shaikh said, according to Reuters. “I think they wanted to move quickly to take us away from that, to reassure in many ways. This regime is capable of anything, but in this case it felt there may well be consequences, that they are perhaps crossing some red lines.”

One Western diplomat said that while warnings have come of consequences that could occur if Syria used its chemical arsenal, it has been the advice of Russia that has made the most impact. Russia is Syria’s main international ally.

“There was talk of them using it two weeks ago, but the Russians intervened quickly to stop him,” the diplomat said, according to Reuters. “If you think how desperate these people are and what they have done in the past, you have to assume they would be prepared to use it. All of us think he (Assad) is capable of using it and will do it if he was pushed to the wall. The Russians got hold of (Assad) and told him ‘don’t even think about it.’”

Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, suggested that Russia has been working with the United States and other countries to attempt to safeguard the proliferation of chemical weapons.

“I think Russia is working with everyone, with America first of all…Putin met the Turkish prime minister, he was in Israel, and is in constant contact with the Americans,” Trenin said, according to Reuters. “Of course, nobody wants chemical weapons to be used, let alone to get into the hands of terrorists.”

While the worst-case scenario could involve a chaotic downfall with rebels and militants seizing chemical weapons, observers think that chemical weapon use is not imminent.

“We cannot rule it out but we are probably some ways away from that scenario,” a diplomat said, according to Reuters.

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