Report: Syria used Iran’s held to expand chemical weapons stockpile

James Quinlivan

Syria grew its chemical weapons supply in recent years with help from Iran and with the use of front organizations to buy equipment, according to a recently released report.

The increase in the country’s arsenal allegedly took place despite attempts by Western countries to block the sale of dual-use technology and precursor chemicals to Damascus, the Washington Post reports.

A cable from 2006 recounts a presentation from German officials to the Australia Group, an informal forum for 40 nations, in addition to the European Commission meant to protect the spread of chemical weapons. The cable described the cooperation between Syria and Iran on the development of a new chemical arsenal.

“Iran would provide the construction design and equipment to annually produce tens to hundreds of tons of precursors for VX, sarin, and mustard (gas),” a U.S. diplomat said in the cable, according to the Washington Post. “Engineers from Iran’s DIO (Defense Industries Organization) were to visit Syria and survey locations for the plants, and construction was scheduled from the end of 2005-2006.”

In addition, documents as recent as 2010 show the European Union providing $14.6 million worth of equipment and technical assistance to the Syrian Ministry of Industry. Some of the assistance was meant for chemical plants. Spot checks on how the equipment was used were stopped in May 2011 when the EU imposed sanctions on Syria.

Records have also shown the purchase of chemical weapon precursors by Syria.

James Quinlivan, the senior operations research analyst at the RAND Corporation, said that it was difficult to prevent Syria from developing its chemical arsenal.

“Certainly a lot of equipment is obviously dual use: A lot of equipment bears a close similarity to that in a pesticide plant,” Quinlivan said, according to the Washington Post. “You can see that there’s a large overlap between civilian and military uses. The person selling chemicals does not have to know they’re selling chemicals for military use: Basic precursors have hundreds of uses. For the country building the program, it’s like high school chemistry — how simple do you want your ingredients to be? How many steps can you take toward a chemical weapon? I think you do have to credit Syria with the ability to assemble a weapon from precursors.”

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