Transcript of Press Conference 23-10-2013 - English

Opening remarks – Michael Luhan

1. Site visits:

18 of 23 disclosed sites visited as of yesterday

“Functional destruction” activities of critical equipment for CWPFs and M/F units have been undertaken at almost all of these 18 sites

2. Current OPCW staff level:

27 in Syria plus 1 in Lebanon for movement

Joint OPCW/UN operations planning team deployed to Cyprus to work on logistics

First OPCW staff rotation to occur next week, reducing force level to 15 inspectors

Inspectors currently working in 3 teams, with “good access” to sites thus far

3. Initial declaration and general plan for destruction

Under the Executive Council decision of 27 September, Syria’s must submit its initial declaration and general plan of destruction to the OPCW by 27 Oct.

OPCW experts are working with the Syrian authorities to prepare the initial  
declaration, which will include the general plan of destruction. We expect to receive Syria’s initial declaration within the next 24 hours, in accordance with the deadline of the EC decision.

 4. Support

OPCW will implement the current stage of verification and destruction activities
with its own inspectors.

States Parties are providing OPCW lists of former inspectors who are available and willing to deploy for the Syria mission going forward.

5.  Cooperation

Interaction with UN remains excellent and cooperation from Syrian authorities
complete.

Questions and Answers

Mike Corder (AP): Can you tell us if the inspectors have yet asked for and received permission to visit sites that are maybe in rebel-held or for which they need to travel through rebel held areas. Have they gone through any rebel territory that required to have any ceasefires yet?

Michael Luhan: No, they have not.

Jan (AFP) When you say a staff rotation and the reduced number to 15, is that a permanent figure? Are you scaling down operations already in Syria? Or is that just a logistical operation?

Michael Luhan: Well as you can see, we are reaching the end of this first stage, this 30 day period constituting the month of October basically, during which we need to verify the CW programme by staging visits to all of the disclosed sites, those 23 sites that I mentioned, and Syria needs to complete the functional destruction of all the critical equipment for its chemical weapons production and mixing and filling equipment. So we are now entering week 4, the final week of that. So yes, we are drawing down our inspector level temporarily, but that will go up again in future, of course.

Anna Holligan (BBC): Last week we spoke and you mentioned that you had attempted to visit 12 sites but you could only access 11 of them, and there was some misunderstanding and I think now with Mike’s question too, I’m still not clear, was there an attempt to visit a site and you will unable to do so and you had to cancel the mission or was there not? Because I think we are getting conflicting reports from Syria and from The Hague.

Michael Luhan: I don’t think there was a conflict there. What I said last week was that one planned visit had to be cancelled because we didn’t get the necessary security assurances ahead of time. So that was the situation with that particular visit.

Anna Holligan: Can I ask a question about Norway, there is a report in the Norwegian press today that the OPCW has asked the Norwegian government to take some of the chemicals to destroy them within their territory. Is there any truth in that report?

Michael Luhan: For those sorts of questions you would have to consult with the Norwegian authorities. As I mentioned, there will be a general plan of destruction that is included with Syria’s initial declaration and by the 15th of November our Executive Council will take a decision on Syria’s plan of destruction. So we may have more to say on those sorts of issues in the future, but not now.

Julian Borger (The Guardian UK): Are we confident that we can meet the November 1st destruction of production facilities?

Michael Luhan: Yes, we are confident that we are going to achieve that inside of the deadline of 1st November. And as I mentioned, destruction activities have now been conducted at all but one of the relevant sites in Syria.

Mike Corder: Does that mean that when that destruction has been completed that Syria will no longer have a capability to launch a chemical weapon attack?

Michael Luhan: What it means is that it will no longer have the capability to produce any more chemical weapons, and it will no longer have any working equipment to mix and to fill chemical weapons agent into munitions. That’s specifically what will be the case, that’s what we expect to be the case as of 1st November.

Mike: If I could again just follow up on that, I think you said last week that you have so far not found any weaponised chemical weapons or munitions. Is that still the case or do you have now a stockpile of chemical weapons that could be used that you know about?

Michael Luhan: I don't have any information on that and I can’t comment.

Anna Holligan: Would it be accurate to interpret what you have just told Mike that you would describe that as the chemical weapons capabilities have been disabled?  Would it be right to say that you would be confident that the chemical weapons capabilities will be disabled by the 1st November?

Michael Luhan: Yes. We use the term “rendered inoperable” and specifically are concentrating on destroying what we call the critical equipment that is at the heart of the production facility, or that runs the mixing and filling units. That critical equipment will be destroyed, rendering the production facilities and equipment inoperable,  unusable.

Ryoichi Teraguchi: What security concerns prevented your teams to visit some sites in Syria? Could we elaborate on that?

Michael Luhan: I don't want to elaborate too much, but essentially the security concerns around those sites are that our access needs to be negotiated to be able to conduct verification and other work at those sites.

Mike Corder: There have been reports of the Syrian regime moving chemical weapons or chemicals possibly to Hezbollah. Does OPCW have any evidence of that?

Michael Luhan: All we can say is that the disclosed information we have received is in line with what we expected to receive regarding Syria’s chemical weapons programme. And no, I couldn't comment on media reports.

Anna Holligan: In terms of the cooperation with the opposition, I know that the UN rule, but do you have information on whether that cooperation is forthcoming in a way that it was not consistently to be known last week.

Michael Luhan: No, I can’t comment. Those are operational details regarding security arrangements, which is the responsibility and business of the United Nations, and they asked that we defer those questions to them.

Jun Nagata: Asked for beginning of statement to be repeated

Michael Luhan: repeats opening statement

Julian Borger: Could you go into methods used in rendering inoperable – for example filling with concrete, smashing up, driving tanks over etc?

Michael Luhan: No, I don't have any specific details about the destruction activities, other than that they are using low-tech methods that we had discussed some weeks ago when we were just starting the mission up. That, you know, it involves smashing things, cutting things, in some cases using cement and other things; smashing things with heavy vehicles, one or all of those activities. But all low-tech and quick and cheap.

Anna Holligan: Last week we heard about a couple of mortar attacks near the hotel where the inspectors were staying and IEDS in cars nearby, have there been other security concerns in the vicinity of the hotel in Damascus.

Michael Luhan: Not since those events last week. Ok, if there are no more question we will call it a wrap and we’ll see you next week. Thank you.

END TRANSCRIPT

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