MPS told Assad could hand over weapons


Plans for Syria to hand over its chemical weapon stockpile to the international community could work, but only if the Assad regime changes a long record of deceptions, Foreign Secretary William Hague has told the House of Commons.

Updating MPs on 12 September 2013 on Britain's response to the Syrian civil war, Mr Hague said Syria had "possibly the largest stock of chemical weapons possessed by any nation in the world."

Mr Hague said Britain was negotiating to secure a strong resolution to enforce the handover of the weapons, including an enforceable deadline.

Mr Hague said "the house should be in no doubt of the scale of the challenge and the immense practical difficulties that would need to be overcome.

"It would require the genuine cooperation of a regime that denied until recently it possessed these weapons and has used them ruthlessly against its own people on at least 14 occasions, killing many hundreds of people including women and children.

"These issues can all be overcome with sufficient international unity and good will and provided there is a complete change of approach by the Assad regime to all of its past practices and deceptions."

Mr Hague admitted there would be difficulties in ensuring all chemical weapons were handed over as "the regime has a large number of sites.. in numerous different locations in a country that is a contested battlefield."

Sarin attack

Mr Hague said British scientists at Porton Down had examined samples from victims of last month's chemical attack and identified Sarin, a "weapons grade nerve agent".

Mr Hague said the UN inspectors report into the attack was expected shortly and told MPs "the evidence continues to point in one direction."

The Foreign Secretary said that during the 21 August attack the gas had been fired with high-tech 140mm and 340mm rockets, which the regime was known to possess, and within range of known Assad military positions.

The attack which took place in Damascus suburbs in the Opposition stronghold around the Ghouta killed a suspected 1,429 people, including 426 children.

Mr Hague update the house that the UK had now provided £20m in "non-lethal support" to the Syrian opposition including 4x4 vehicles, body armour and generators.

Diplomatic Labour

Responding to the statement shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander called Syria the "greatest international diplomatic failure of the 21st Century."

Mr Alexander claimed that Labour was to be credited with the current push for diplomatic resolution to the Syrian crisis.

Mr Alexander said that before the vote it was clear that "this country was being pushed towards military action, on a time table set elsewhere, without due process being followed and the necessary steps being taken.

"Is it not abundantly clear that if the Government's motion had been passed by this House two weeks ago, the United States military force would have in all likelihood already been used in Syria and the diplomatic path, that he now advocates with such conviction, would never have been reached?

The Foreign Secretary responded calling Mr Alexander's claims "extraordinary" and likening them to "the story of the cockerel that thought its crowing brought about the dawn."

Mr Hague said "you will remember that the motion that we put before the House, far from being in a rush, had said that the Government, before taking any military action would await the report of the UN inspectors, which had not yet taken place".

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