The Syrian government has admitted to having 41 chemical-weapons facilities at 23 sites, according to a Associated Press report on Monday that might resolve questions over the country's disclosure about its chemical arsenal.
Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime submitted a "formal initial declaration" of its chemical-weapons program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons last Thursday. However, it was not immediately clear if the confidential document stated that the country has more than the 23 chemical sites it identified in a September preliminary declaration.
U.S. officials believe the Assad regime has at least 45 chemical-arms sites, and questioned if the new Syrian declaration -- announced on Sunday by the Hague-based oversight body -- was incomplete, or if the government had consolidated its chemical-arms stocks.
Syria declared having 23 chemical-weapons sites at a total of 41 facilities -- made up of 18 structures for producing chemical arms and 12 for storing them, along with eight mobile units for filling chemical weapons and three related facilities, Üzümcü reportedly said in the document he submitted to the U.N. Security Council. The Middle Eastern country admitted to having roughly 1,000 metric tons of "Category 1" chemical weapons, which are mainly precursors rarely used for peaceful purposes, along with approximately 290 tons of "Category 2" chemicals that are still considered toxic and dangerous. Syria also acknowledged possession of 1,230 unfilled munitions that could be used to deliver the poison, Üzümcü wrote.
"In addition, the Syrian authorities have reported finding two cylinders not belonging to them, which are believed to contain chemical weapons," Üzümcü said.
Despite the disclosure of this report, U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility that Syria has not fully disclosed all of its chemical development, storage and testing locations, according to the Times.
Assad acknowledged that he possessed chemical weapons and agreed to their destruction in September, shortly after a nerve-gas attack on civilians just outside Damascus spurred international condemnation and the threat of a U.S. military strike. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons then launched an ambitious effort to inventory and eliminate the Syrian chemical arsenal by mid-2014.
The organization announced on Monday that international chemical-arms inspectors completed their first round of verification activities in Syria, but were not able to visit two of the 23 sites because of security concerns in the war-battered nation.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council in a letter that the joint OPCW-U.N. mission is monitoring security at the two not-yet-visited locales "with the intention of visiting them as soon as conditions permit," according to AP.
The inspectors in Syria are facing a Nov. 1 deadline for overseeing the completion of the so-called functional destruction of equipment that can produce chemical weapons. Ban said, though, that such destruction at the two sites that inspectors have not visited may not be completed by the deadline.
An unidentified senior State Department official told the Times there "was reason to be optimistic" about the Syrian disarmament process, saying Syria's proposal to eliminate its arsenal "seems to be realistic." That plan would allow the country's precursor chemicals to be moved out of the country for destruction, the official said.
Multiple countries are being considered as possible locations for the weapons disposal work, though one nation -- Norway -- already said it would not allow those materials in its borders. Ban said Syrian officials are insisting that their chemical arms not be given to the United States.