16
Sep

By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger

jp-disarm-articleLarge

Workers under the supervision of United Nations inspectors in 1996 destroyed growth media that could be used to produce biological weapons in Iraq.

When Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi had to convince the world 10 years ago that he was serious about giving up his chemical weapons, he dragged warheads and bombs into the desert and flattened them with bulldozers.

When Saddam Hussein, defeated in the Persian Gulf war of 1991, had to demonstrate that he was giving up his chemical arsenal, Iraqis protected by little more than tattered cloths over their faces poured some of the agents into ditches and set them on fire — to the shock of inspectors watching in heavy “moon suits.”

Weapons experts and diplomats say that if President Bashar al-Assad is serious about complying with the landmark agreement announced in Geneva on Saturday, he will have to take similarly dramatic action in the coming weeks. Anything short of an immediate demonstration of willingness, they say, will be a sign that Mr. Assad is seeking to drag out the process, betting that time is on his side as memories fade of the attack that is said to have killed more than 1,400 people and prompted a military standoff with the United States.

The benchmarks laid out in the Geneva agreement seek to capitalize on the momentum by imposing quick deadlines, including a requirement that Syria submit a complete list of its chemical weapons, and storage and production facilities within a week. The agreement also requires “immediate and unfettered” access to chemical weapons sites by international inspectors.

The agreement calls for the destruction of chemical agent mixing equipment by November and, perhaps most ambitious, for Syria to completely rid itself of chemical weapons and production facilities in less than a year, a timetable that would set a speed record and one that many experts doubt could be completed even with Syria’s full cooperation.

Experts say speed is of the essence.

“You have a very limited time to do as much as you can with maximum political support,” said David A. Kay, who led major efforts in the 1990s to find and destroy Iraq’s unconventional arms. “The political support will start to erode. The people you’re inspecting will get tired. So you want to do as much as you can, as quickly as you can.” Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 14, 2013 (a version of this article appears in print on September 15, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: If History Is Any Measure, the Clock Is Ticking).

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