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The Syrian government supports a proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control, Syria's prime minister said Tuesday.
But it is not easy to simply walk into Syria, secure chemical weapons, load them onto trucks and ships, and take them out of the country to be destroyed.
"You need the Syrians to declare, 'This is our stockpile, how many we have, this is the location.' You cross-check that against your own intelligence information, and that available from others. You go to the sites, and then the fun starts," said David Kay, former U.S. chief weapons inspector in Iraq.
Approaching such weapons would also require full "MOPP" gear, or protective gear, because "if it's typical chemical weapons, there will be leakers. They are dangerous to handle," said Kay.
Disarming Syria, which Kay said has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world, would require considerable manpower.
"Just to establish inventory and positive control, using all the technical devices, seals, automatic cameras, and all that you would want to, you're talking well over 1,000 people," said Kay.
But Syria is in the middle of a civil war, and it would be difficult to safely move 1,000 people around a country the size of Washington state. They would not be able to fly in directly to Damascus, but would have to come in through Beirut, and then travel, in some cases, to areas that are actively contested by Syrian rebels.
"Inspectors don't like people shooting at them. They're pretty good about ducking, but not very good about telling you who's doing the shooting," said Kay.
The United States has said repeatedly that it will not send U.S. troops to Syria – as several officials and the president has said, "no boots on the ground." That being the case, Kay said Jordan, Turkey, or Iraq would likely protect inspectors.
"The Iraqis, which we have spent billions of dollars to train their armed forces, would be I think acceptable to the Syrians and would be not a bad part of the force," said Kay. "Ultimately, you've got to have credibility. You've got to have a set of inspectors who have integrity, which the Security Council believes, the U.S. government believes have integrity."
Bottom line, said Kay, disarming Syria "can be done" - but there are a lot of "ifs."
"You are going to break a lot of crockery in doing it. If you try to do it by the book, you won't get it done in a decade. And that's too long. You need to take this opportunity and test and see if the Syrians and the Russians are real, and if the rest of the international community will back up the inspectors," said Kay.