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Syria completes ‘functional destruction’ of chemical weapon-making facilities

October 31, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Another milestone was reached today in disarming Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Jeffrey Brown has that story.

MICHAEL LUHAN, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: The Syrian government has completed what we called the functional destruction of its entire chemical weapons-making apparatus.

JEFFREY BROWN: The confirmation came from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize this month. The group has been working, under a U.N. mandate, to ensure that Syria’s chemical weapons-making facilities were put out of commission by Nov. 1.

MICHAEL LUHAN: So it no longer has the capacity to manufacture new chemical weapons agents and has — has not the capacity to utilize the precursor binary chemicals for sarin gas and to load those into munitions.

JEFFREY BROWN: The organization inspected 21 declared production sites.

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Fighting between rebels and the Syrian army made two other sites too risky to reach. Today, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain, estimated the fighting has killed more than 120,000 people in the last two-and-a-half years. Added to that, the U.N.’s estimate of more than four million displaced people inside Syria, and two million more in neighboring states, plus reports of growing food shortages and disease outbreaks, including polio.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J.: I understand that, in Syria, there are not great options.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Washington, senators from both parties pressed the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, to defend President Obama’s handling of the situation. New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez chairs the Foreign Relations Committee.

ROBERT MENENDEZ: This is a pretty bad hand that the region, as well as all of us who care about it, have been dealt. But in the midst of that, there has to be some effort of a strategy to get us to where we need to be.

ROBERT FORD, U.S. Ambassador to Syria: Senator, it’s a two-track strategy. First, keep pushing to get the two sides to the table. But we understand that the Assad regime is a very tough, brutal regime. So, push for negotiations, but help the moderate opposition be in a position itself to press for concessions from the regime when it gets there.

JEFFREY BROWN: But Republicans, including Bob Corker of Tennessee, insisted the administration has failed to deliver on its promises to the rebels.

ROBERT FORD: Senator, there isn’t a person on my team at the State Department who doesn’t feel frustrated, frustrated by the Syrian problem in general. But I have to say, we do provide support to help them against the regime. We provide a lot of support.

SEN. BOB CORKER, R-Tenn.: I think our help to the opposition has been an embarrassment. And I find it appalling that you would sit here and act as if we’re doing the things we said we would do three months ago, six months ago, nine months ago.

JEFFREY BROWN: Fellow Republican John McCain of Arizona said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has used that time to gain ground.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: The fact is that he was about to be toppled a year ago, or over a year ago. Then Hezbollah came in. Then the Russians stepped up their effort. Then the Iranian Revolutionary Guard intervened in what you call a — quote — “civil war,” and he turned the tide. And he continues to maintain his position of power and slaughtering innocent Syrian civilians. And you are relying on a Geneva conference, right?

ROBERT FORD: Senator, first of all, I would agree with much of what you said there in terms of the balance shifting against him and the intervention of Hezbollah helping the regime enormously.

But our goal, ultimately, is to get Syrian communities that are afraid of each other to somehow come to a political agreement.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, in Damascus, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi held a fourth day of talks today, hoping to bring both sides to the planned Geneva peace conference next month.