A team of international inspectors crossed over into Syria on Tuesday, marking the start of a mission to destroy the country's chemical weapons stockpile. The group currently in Syria will handle talks with the country's government regarding the task of working in the middle of Syria's civil war.
The team includes both U.N. staffers and inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons watchdog group, who began their work on the international plan to rid Syria of its chemical weapons after a resolution authorizing it passed the U.N. Security Council unanimously. That plan, which doesn't authorize enforcement in the event of Syria's non-compliance, comes with a series of tight deadlines. So even as the situation in Syria is not like anything the OPCW is normally expected to handle, the organization will have to work quickly. The stockpile must fall under international control by November. And the weapons must be destroyed by the first half of 2014, about nine months from now. The New York Times explains that, after talks, inspectors will first verify the inventory of the country's stockpile, provided by the government of President Bashar al-Assad as part of the agreement. The Times explains:
After the first week, the team is expected to expand and move to verify what is at those sites and to assist Syria with the destruction of equipment and facilities for mixing agents and producing chemical weapons, an official involved with planning the mission said.
The timeline is the tightest faced by the organization, ever. The OPCW must also ensure that the country's ability to manufacture chemical weapons is destroyed by the beginning of November, which seems to mean that the agency, assisting Syria, might use any means on hand to do that. The AP suggests that the equipment destruction might involve "smashing mixing equipment with sledgehammers, blowing up delivery missiles, driving tanks over empty shells or filling them with concrete, and running machines without lubricant so they seize up and become inoperable." Syrians are responsible for the security of the U.N. team, although Russia has extended an offer to assist.
Meanwhile, some factions of the exiled opposition in Syria aren't to happy about the new diplomatic plan to disarm Assad, because of fears that the sudden co-operation by the Assad regime is merely a ploy to make the leader look "legitimate."
This post has been updated for clarity.