Søvndal: “Syria needs to deliver on its promise”

Syria has agreed to a Russian-backed deal to hand over its chemical weapons, but Denmark’s foreign minister stresses the need to maintain international pressure

After Syria agreed this week to sign the international chemical weapons treaty and declare and destroy its stock, Denmark wants to ensure that Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad fulfils his commitment.

“Assad says he knows where his stock is [and] it is a very small task to ensure that the international community is informed about what weapons he has,” the foreign minister, Villy Søvndal (Socialistisk Folkeparti), told DR Nyheder.

“Denmark will do all it can to ensure that Assad delivers what he has promised to the international community, and will continue to push for maintained international pressure.”

Russian diplomacy
The proposal to hand over weapons was formally made by Russia after US Secretary of State John Kerry stated in a press conference that Syria could avoid a US strike by abandoning its arsenal of chemical weapons.

The US has been pushing for military action against Syria following the chemical attack that 1,400 civilians in a Damascus suburb last month. The US, the UK and France have all presented evidence that the attack was carried out by the Syrian government.

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Last night, US president Barack Obama stated in a televised address that he had ordered the military to “maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad to respond if diplomacy fails”.

But in a move indicating that the US approved of the Russian initiative to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons, Obama announced that he had requested that Congress postpone a vote that would authorise the use of force.

International pressure to comply
There may be some way to go before the weapons are handed over, however, and the US, the UK and France want Syria to face force unless it follows through with the Russian proposal, which has yet to be fleshed out to include a timetable for compliance.

“[The US, the UK and France] want to ensure that this is not simply a diversionary tactic that will end up in a tug of war,” Søvndal said. “It is international pressure that has brought the situation to where it is today.”

He added: “It’s worth remembering that Assad has many times promised things that have never transpired.”

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Following the G20 summit in St Petersburg, Denmark joined the US and a dozen other countries in signing a joint statement that condemned the chemical attack and called for a strong international reaction.

“The statement is clearly in line with the Danish position,” Søvndal said. “Denmark has already expressed political support for a limited and proportionate military action on multiple occasions. It is important that we get the biggest possible international backing for the way ahead, and Denmark would like to join these efforts.“

Russia does not support the threat of military intervention if Syria fails to comply with its commitment to dispose of its chemical weapons.

World's larges chemical weapons stockpile
The US alleges that Syria possesses a 1,000 tonne stockpile of chemical weapons which, according to Major Lars Cramer-Larsen from the Royal Danish Defence College, will be difficult to dispose of.

“It is the world’s largest chemical weapons stock that has to be dealt with in a country facing civil war. It wont be easy,” Cramer-Larsen told DR Nyheder, adding that the weapons would have to be destroyed in Syria. “It is inconceivable that the weapons would be taken out of the country.”