Syria Joins Weapons Treaty, Stashes Chemical Arms Across the Country

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Photo: ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images

Apparently emboldened by the U.S. backing off of its threat to bomb Syria, temporarily at least, on Thursday, President Bashar al-Assad began listing demands. In an interview with Russian TV, Assad said he'd agreed to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control, but the plan wouldn't be finalized until the U.S. stops threatening an attack and arming the Syrian rebels, or as he put it, until "we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists."

Obviously, the U.S. didn't agree to those terms. "President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad's capacity to deliver these weapons," said Secretary of State John Kerry. Yet, later on Thursday Syria claimed it had become a "full member" of the Chemical Weapons Convention when it sent the United Nations a written request to join the treaty. U.N. officials said the treaty only becomes binding after 30 days, and Kerry said even that isn't soon enough. "There is nothing standard about this process," said Kerry. "The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough."

Under normal circumstances, Syria would submit documentation on all of its chemical weapons within 60 days, and international inspectors would then verify the information. That may prove even more difficult than expected, as The Wall Street Journal reports that Syria's elite Unit 450, the secretive military group tasked with managing the chemical weapons program, as been dispersing chemical munitions throughout the country in recent months, and was still moving them just last week. Most of Syria's biological and chemical weapons stockpile used to be kept in a just a few large sites, but officials say they've been moved to as many as 50 locations in the last year in an attempt to throw off the U.S. Thanks to satellites and spy intelligence, U.S. officials think they still know where the chemical weapons are stashed ... for the most part.

U.S. officials have continually warned that Syria agreeing to U.S.-Russian negotiations may just be a stall tactic, and so far Assad isn't behaving like a man who feels chastened by the international community.