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U.S. Insiders: Assad Turns Last Chemical Arms Into Bargaining Chip

Syrian rescue workers stand inside a damaged Aleppo school following a reported government airstrike on Wednesday. U.S. officials said Syria's regime is refusing to relinquish chemical weapons over a standoff about how to handle one-time storage sites. Syrian rescue workers stand inside a damaged Aleppo school following a reported government airstrike on Wednesday. U.S. officials said Syria's regime is refusing to relinquish chemical weapons over a standoff about how to handle one-time storage sites. (Zein al-Rifai/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. officials said Syria's government is withholding chemical arms to bargain in a dispute over former holding sites, the Washington Post reports.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has placed all but 8 percent of its declared chemical arsenal in international custody under a deal reached last year, but is now holding on to 27 tons of sarin nerve agent ingredients at the divided country's capital, the newspaper reported on Wednesday. The government agreed to dismantle its stockpile after sarin killed hundreds of people in an area held by opposition forces, spurring threats of a foreign military backlash.

One U.S. government insider said the Syrian regime is "stalling for time" in a bid to avoid destroying structures that previously housed warfare chemicals. The source suggested that Damascus would eventually relinquish the stocks.

In a related development, U.S. intelligence services have largely concluded that Assad's government was responsible for an April chlorine-gas attack reported in the town of Kfar Zeita, according to a high-level U.S. insider.

Still, the potential to disrupt the removal of Syria's sarin ingredients has made Washington hesitant to call further attention to possible chlorine strikes, U.S. personnel told the Post.

There is "not much we can do" about the alleged chlorine attacks, a high-level insider said. Use of the substance as a weapon is banned under a treaty that Assad's government signed last year, but the regime is under no obligation to rid the country of the easily obtainable industrial material.

Separately, France, the United Kingdom and the United States have all claimed to possess indications that Assad's regime is concealing additional chemical arms, a source at the world's chemical-arms watchdog told the Daily Beast for a Thursday report.

"Those allegations remain to be examined and there are intensive discussions on options for doing that," the insider said.

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