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Claims of Syrian Chlorine Bombs Counter News of Progress on Chemical Arms

June 17, 2015

The monitoring group overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical arms stockpile said Wednesday that almost all effluent from the neutralized weapons had been eliminated, portraying the progress as a great success in the nearly two years since Syria agreed to relinquish its arsenal.

But the news from the group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was partly overshadowed by outrage over what critics of the Syrian government call its increasingly brazen use of chlorine in makeshift poison gas bombs dumped on civilians and suspected rebels in the civil war.

Witnesses at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing in Washington, including a Syrian doctor and a civil defense coordinator from areas said to have been attacked, described the chlorine bombs as horrific weapons that had asphyxiated young children.

One witness, Dr. Annie Sparrow, a pediatrician and rights activist who has helped train doctors working in rebel-held areas of Syria, accused the Syrian government not only of using chlorine in bombs, but also of withholding chlorine for water purification and other critical sanitation needs in areas it does not control.

Dr. Sparrow, an outspoken critic of the Syrian government, said it had “transformed a principal element of public health into a tool of disease and terror.”

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria denies that his forces have dropped chlorine bombs, which would be a war crime. Such attacks would also violate the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the Syrian government, under heavy pressure from Russia, signed in 2013 to avert an attack threatened by the United States.

But there is substantial evidence of what Mr. Assad’s opponents describe as at least 29 chlorine bomb attacks launched from government helicopters in rebel-held parts of northern Syria this year. In March, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning them, without ascribing responsibility.

Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, has repeatedly warned that those responsible for chlorine bomb attacks will be held accountable. But it remains unclear when, or even whether, the Security Council will take more decisive action.

The question of an international response to the chlorine attacks has been further complicated by recent evidence suggesting that Mr. Assad secretly withheld some banned chemical compounds from destruction.

Domestic critics of President Obama, who once famously declared that chemical weapons use in Syria would violate his “red line” and would force American action, have called his response far too tentative — an accusation his aides strongly deny.

“Assad has seen the world’s complacency and decided that he can literally get away with murder,” said Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which convened the hearing in Washington.

Chlorine is considered a dual-use chemical, with many important industrial and hygienic applications in addition to its capacity as a weapon, and it is not on the list of toxic substances, including nerve agent ingredients and mustard gas, that Mr. Assad was required to give up when Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention banning them.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which oversees compliance with the treaty, said nothing about chlorine in its announcement on Wednesday, which was devoted to updates on the elimination of Syria’s banned chemical munitions.

It said effluents created aboard the Cape Ray — the American naval vessel that neutralized 600 tons of Syrian toxins, including sulfur mustard and DF, a precursor chemical to nerve agents — had been destroyed at facilities in Germany and Finland last week.

“This is yet another milestone in the path to eliminating chemical weapons stocks from Syria,” the monitoring organization’s director general, Ahmet Uzumcu, said in the announcement.

Of the entire 1,300-ton Syrian stockpile, the organization said, 16 tons of hydrogen fluoride remain to be destroyed at a facility in Port Arthur, Tex.

Mahathir Mohamad at a conference in Tokyo last month.
Interview by THOMAS FULLER
June 17, 2015

Mahathir Mohamad, who served as prime minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, turns 90 next month. He is forcing his way back into the center of Malaysian politics with a fire hose of criticism for the man he helped install in office, Najib Razak, the current prime minister.

In an interview, Mr. Mahathir lashed out at Mr. Najib for what he described as wastefulness and lavish spending. But he also broached a host of other topics, questioning the tenets of modern democracy and calling for a boycott of Myanmar over its persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority there.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

On the splintering of Malaysian politics:

The reason why Malaysia has managed to remain stable and to grow economically was because there was one big coalition of parties. But now you can see there’s a breakup. What will happen in the next election is that no one will be able to gain a majority. This, of course, leads to instability.

On the current prime minister:

I had always supported Najib. I was in a way instrumental in his becoming prime minister. [But] the apparent disappearance of huge sums of money. This is not good. He has never been able to explain how the money was spent. He wants to leave his own legacy. But what he does is verging on criminal. He’s going to lose in the next election.

On the prime minister’s wife, Rosmah Mansor:

She projects herself too much. Normally, the wife of the prime minister should be in the background supporting the husband.

On Western-style democracy in Asia:

If you look at the history of democracy, initially it was all about the right of the people to choose their own leaders. Since then, we have added more things to democracy. You must have this freedom and that freedom. I know what is wrong about democracy. It is when people interpret it wrongly. And they seem to think that liberty, freedom is absolute. It’s not.

On the use of detention without trial:

Running a country is not just about being nice. Sometimes you have to be nasty to people who have evil intentions.

On a Muslim Malaysian gymnast who was criticized by religious leaders for wearing what they described as a revealing outfit:

I feel that these people are interpreting the religion in the wrong way. The religion is not wrong. It is these people who interpret it to suit their own purpose.

On how to deal with conservative Islamists:

You have to reply to them in the language of the religion. But if you say, ‘This is not constitutionally right,’ it’s not going to work.

On Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya:

This country claims that the Rohingya are not their people. They’ve been there for 800 years, much longer than the Chinese in Malaysia. The atrocities committed are terrible. They killed and burned people, they beat people to death. In this day and age, people should not behave like that. Asean [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] should do something. If necessary, I think I would expel this country. It’s terrible. The whole world should boycott this country.

On the reasons he has turned against his anointed successors three times:

They all looked good to me before they held power, but they don’t seem to manage power. They seem to think that power is to satisfy their own ambition. Power is there to serve the people. It’s not for enriching yourself and living a high life.

On turning 90 next month:

I never thought I would reach 90.

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(via NY Times)