Skip to content or view screen version

Syria and weapons of mass destruction

Alessandra Asteriti | 17.04.2003 17:19

A critical analysis of the UK position on Syria's development of chemical weapons in view of the sale of toxic chemical precursors to Syria, amongst other countries, in the past ten years, by the UK.

Syria and weapons of mass destruction

On April 14th, Jack Straw, on a diplomatic trip to Kuwait, responded to American allegations that Syria is developing chemical weapons.
Before we analyse his statement, it is worth noticing how the propaganda being issued by the Pentagon (and the American Enterprise Institute’s neo-conservatives behind it) is shifting. From the accusation that Syria was hiding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, an argument that does not hold much water in the arena of international law, now the problem seems to be that Syria is developing her own weapons, a crime identical to the one covered by the UN resolutions against Iraq, which constituted the “casus belli” for war.
To go back to Jack Straw’s statement, apart from conforming fully to the American line, the statement holds much interest for the British public. Mr. Straw said that the British government had “no knowledge” of Syria developing chemical weapons.
The statement was reported without comment by all the major media. Andrew Marr, the BBC political commentator, added his own evaluation, declaring that Downing Street was puzzled by the American accusation, and that they had “no clue” about the matter.
Now, enter a few more characters to the story. The first is Neil Mackay, as quoted by John Pilger in his book “The New Rulers of the World”. Mackay is a journalist for the Glasgow Herald, who published an article on June 9th 2002 titled “UK sells chemical weapons to the world”.
The second is Antony Barnett, who published an article on the Observer, on April 6th 2003 (notice the date), by the title “Ministers face probe on UK arms for Syria”.
Both articles are still accessible on the net, so anybody can read them.
In short, the articles report how the United Kingdom has been selling to many countries, including Syria, Iran, and Israel, in the period between 1991 and 2001, so called “toxic chemical precursors”, or TCPs, which are illegal under international law, as they are considered “dual use chemicals”, to be used in the production of chemical weapons.
Pressed on the matter, the Department of Trade, which approved the sale, declared that they were counting on the word of the Syrian government, that the chemicals would not be used for weapons.
Given that these events were so recently discussed in the House of Commons, how can Mr. Straw declare to have no knowledge of the matter, and why didn’t anybody question his statement?
Obviously, this commercial transactions put the UK in a very weak bargaining position with the United States, who are, one can be sure, very aware of these dealings.
It is not in the interest of the British government to bring attention to this, what with Syrian President Assad’s visit to Mr. Blair and the Queen still fresh in everybody’s mind.
It is not likely that the US want to conduct a full-scale invasion of Syria. In any case, Mr. Blair and Mr. Straw know that they have very little clout with the US on this matter, and very little credibility with the British public, were the connection between the two stories be made. I have called the BBC repeatedly, hoping to have the story aired. No luck so far.

Alessandra Asteriti
- e-mail: