chemical weapons

The Umatilla Chemical Depot is letting go of 60 more workers. Just 100 remain, down from more than 800 a few years ago.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee on Friday awarded the 2013 peace prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a group that's only recently been thrust into the spotlight as it works to dismantle Syria's chemical program.

The OPCW, which is based at the Hague, was established in 1997 and now has an annual budget of $100 million and a staff of about 500 people. Here's a profile of the group.

Where is the OPCW working?

AP Photo/STR

The United Nations General Assembly opened this week and on the top of the agenda is the crisis in Syria. UN weapons inspectors said that based on their investigation, chemical weapons were definitely used in an August 21 attack of a city on the outskirts of Damascus.

While many officials believe evidence points to Bashar al-Assad's government as being the perpetrator of the attack, Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that the UN and Western officials have incorrectly tied the Syrian government to that attack.

Fred Weir is the Moscow correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, he explains why Russia is still blaming the Syrian rebels for the chemical weapons attack.

The United Nations inspectors say they have convincing evidence that chemical weapons were used in a large scale attack in Syria last month. In a report released earlier today the inspectors said the samples they collected from an area of Damascus provided clear and convincing evidence that the nerve agent sarin was used.

The inspectors were not charged with determining who launched the chemical weapons. The news closely follows this weekend’s announcement that Russia and the United States had reached agreement on a framework for Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons program. The United States and its allies say military force is still a possibility if Syria fails to follow through on its agreement. Meanwhile the war in Syria continues.

Borzou Daragahi has been covering events in the Middle East for the Financial Times. He’s based in Cairo. He explains what the reaction in the Middle East has been to the announcement that Syria would give up its chemical weapons.

The international community may soon be charged with the destruction of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stockpile. After the US and Russia, Syria is assumed to have the world’s third largest stock of sarin, mustard gas and other toxic weapons.

The US began the process of destroying its chemical weapons in the 1990s, after it signed the International Chemical Weapons Treaty. Umatilla, Ore., was once home to one of the nine US Army installations that house chemical weapons. Umatilla staff successfully finished the process of dismantling that weapons stockpile in October of 2011.

Our Richland correspondent Anna King explains how they went about the process of destroying chemical weapons.

In a prime-time speech that followed two weeks of high-stakes drama, President Obama asked the American people to support a military strike against Syria, even as he pursued a diplomatic solution to the standoff.

Flickr Photo/Debra Sweet

After an off-the-cuff suggestion by Secretary of State John Kerry, President Bashar al-Assad’s government has accepted a Russian plan to turn over their chemical weapons. The significance of this agreement is “huge” according to Joseph Cirincione, the president of Ploughshares Fund and member of Secretary Kerry’s International Security Advisory Board. He explains what the prospects of this plan working are and how the international community might go about seizing Syria’s chemical weapons.

(We most recently updated this post at 4:02 p.m. ET.)

Amid reports that Syrian President Bashar Assad may be willing to give up his chemical weapons, as his strongest ally has suggested he do, the Obama administration expressed skepticism Tuesday.

Congress returned to Washington, D.C., today with Syria at the forefront of its agenda. Lawmakers will debate a resolution on military intervention against Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons.

To take a step back, Ross Reynolds talks with Dr. Raymond Zilinskas, director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies about chemical weapons — what they are and why they are considered a different class than conventional weapons. 

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It took more than two years and at least 100,000 lives lost for the U.S. government to threaten Syria with military action. The catalyst was the Syrian military's alleged use of chemical weapons. President Obama called the attack on August 21st an assault on human dignity.

NPR's Jackie Northam examines why chemical weapons evoke such a strong and different reaction than conventional weapons.

President Obama landed in Sweden on Wednesday — the start of a European trip that will take him to Russia for a summit of world leaders at which he'll try to build support for his plan to strike targets inside Syria.

As The Washington Post says, it's a "high-stakes trip ... that could show whether the United States has broad international backing for action."

Speaking during a photo op with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania today, President Obama said he has not made a final decision on launching a military strike on Syria.

But Obama echoed the case made earlier by Secretary of State John Kerry that chemical weapons in Syria threaten U.S. national security interests and that the use of chemical weapons is the "kind of offense that is a challenge to the world."

Though Great Britain won't be joining in any military action aimed at Syria, it appears the White House is determined to go ahead — most likely within the next few days and most likely with missile strikes.

We'll be following the news throughout the day and over the weekend. As Friday dawns, here's where things stand:

AP Photo/Richard Drew

Britain could launch strikes against the Syrian regime without the backing of the United Nations, according to its own legal advice.

As President Obama weighs a possible limited military strike against Syria, he may want to consider the track record of his predecessors on this front. It's not encouraging.

The Obama administration and several before it have seen limited attacks as a way to send a tough message without drawing the U.S. into a larger conflict.

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