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Panetta Confident of Syrian Chem Arsenal Security

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday said he believed Syria's large quantity of chemical weapons are protected and not at risk of being seized, Reuters reported (see GSN, June 21).

"We're confident that these sites are being secured," Panetta said in an interview with the news agency. "And we see no evidence that any of them are in jeopardy of being violated" (Phil Stewart, Reuters, June 22).

The besieged Bashar Assad regime is thought to have hundreds of tons of chemical warfare materials and delivery systems spread out in a number of locations. There are concerns that as fighting continues that Damascus could use its stock of blister and nerve agents against the resistance, or that the materials might be acquired by militant organizations.

"A lot of talk about securing these facilities so far is moot because a lot of the elite units in the Syrian military are critical to maintaining the safeguards on those facilities. There is a strong sense of confidence within the U.S. defense community, that the Syrian armed forces currently have strong safeguards in place," Center for Strategic and International Studies Syria specialist Aram Nerguizian told Voice of America.

Damascus' arsenal includes medium-range high-altitude missiles that would enable the regional delivery of chemical agents on countries such as Turkey and Israel, Globalsecurity.com Director John Pike told Voice of America.

"In 2007 the Israelis destroyed what at that point were nuclear reactors going up in what was believed was the nascent Syrian nuclear program," Federation of American Scientists fellow Charles Blair said. "It’s entirely possible that after that, the Syrians redoubled their efforts with their chemical deterrent because they no longer had a nuclear route."

Blair said it would require a massive military effort by the United States to take control of Syria's chemical weapons. "The only way that you could envision really securing the Syrian stockpile is with a large force."

The Pentagon projects that it would require some 75,000 U.S. troops to seize Syria's chemical weapons, according to Blair. At present, there is no large combat-ready Western military force in the near vicinity of Syria. "I don't think there is any way that the West can secure the stockpiles," he said (Andre deNesnera, Voice of America, June 21).

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