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The Ins And Outs Of Securing Chemical Weapons


Let's try to explore more now about how to ensure the Bashar al-Assad regime really does get rid of its chemical weapons. We turn to a former U.N. weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer. He led the Iraq survey group that conducted the investigation into Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Duelfer, thanks for being with us.

CHARLES DUELFER: Well, it's good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Near as you can tell, is this proposed agreement - is this agreement, I guess, that's real now, practical?

DUELFER: Well, sometimes, Scott, things work and this may be one of those cases. It has all the elements I think in place that are required for a successful disarming operation, bearing in mind we're drawing on lessons from the experience with Iraq in the 1990s.

SIMON: Well, what encourages you?

DUELFER: Well, there's a heavy burden which is levied upon Syria, and the dynamic here is where Syria is intended to declare things and the inspection inspectors are meant to verify. The burden of proof is on Syria. All the heavy lifting is on Syria. They have to provide access, to provide security. They're the ones who will conduct the destruction, if that's the case, in Syria.

The role of the weapons inspectors is to verify. With that dynamic in place, this could work.

SIMON: On the other hand, what about reports that the regime has been moving the weapons around?

DUELFER: Well, this is something that can be tested by the presence of the weapons inspectors. Very early on the requirement is for Syria to provide a declaration. It's very interesting that the Russians and the Americans have come to a common assessment of what they both believe from their intelligence is in the holdings of the Syrian government.

If Syria provides a declaration of its holdings and their locations which appears relatively accurate, then I think we'll get a very early indication that they're serious and, in fact, the process may work out.

SIMON: Mr. Duelfer, what about the fact that, as I've heard some people suggest, the carrots might be there but not the stick, in this agreement?

DUELFER: Well, the stick is implicit even if it isn't explicit. I mean, we've seen what the president did in his speech. He basically said Syria is guilty. He knows what the sentence is - he's defined a military strike. But in essence he's suspended the sentence to see how this political process could play out. So whether or not Foreign Minister Lavrov or the Russian government or others, indeed, agree to have this written up and embedded in U.N. language, Bashar al-Assad will know that the Americans have at ready a military strike, which is the stick.

Interestingly, the incentives are somewhat different than the case of Iraq, where Iraq was under sanctions and their positive incentive was to get out of sanctions. In the case of Bashar al-Assad, presumably, what he sees as a positive assessment or incentive is that he can gain greater international legitimacy.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you think he gains greater international legitimacy by participation in this agreement?

DUELFER: Well, I think that's inevitable. And I think that has to be part of what, you know, Sergei Lavrov was saying to the Syrians. I mean, they've got a tough client there in a case. They've got a, you know, a bad reputation. But the one positive which is perhaps available to him is that, you know, the international community will be dealing with Bashar al-Assad as a government. The rebels are more of a disparate group and, you know, from the Bashar al-Assad perspective they may be losing credibility rather than gaining credibility.

SIMON: So you could have someone who uses chemical weapons and winds up gaining international credibility?

DUELFER: Well, if he can make the case that he's now reformed and he's getting rid of it and, you know, he's already indicated he wants to sign up for the chemical weapons convention, we will see. I mean, it all sounds good now but, you know, there's a timeline here for specific steps, and we'll see hard evidence as it plays out.

SIMON: Former U.N. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer. Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.