Ben Rhodes: Assad Gave Up ‘All’ Chemical Weapons; Tony Blinken: ‘We Always Knew' Some Remained

Patrick Goodenough | April 10, 2017 | 4:26am EDT
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Members of a U.N. investigation team take samples near Damascus after a chemical weapons attack in August 2013. (AP Photo/Local Committee of Arbeen, File)

( – Obama administration deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, who has been active on social media defending his former boss’s policies, suggested on Sunday that “all” of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons had been surrendered under a 2013 deal – echoing the line being repeated by Assad’s allies Russia and Iran.

In a tweet, Rhodes commented that U.S. airstrikes like those launched against a Syrian airbase last week “could not have ended the violence in Syria or removed all of the CW, which was destroyed through diplomacy.”

The argument that President Bashar al-Assad handed over for destruction “all” his chemical weapons under a deal brokered by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-Secretary of State John Kerry has also featured strongly in the Russian and Iranian talking points on last Friday’s missile strike.

President Trump said the cruise missiles fired from two destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean had targeted a regime airbase linked to a chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province two days earlier that left more than 80 people dead.

In fact, the 2013 agreement, which came after an earlier, even deadlier sarin gas attack in Ghouta near Damascus, was only ever an agreement for the regime to hand over its declared chemical weapons.

On the same day as Rhodes sent his tweet, one of his colleagues in the Obama national security council back in 2013, Tony Blinken, was quoted in the New York Times as acknowledging that the agreement had not removed all of Assad’s chemical stocks.

“We always knew we had not gotten everything, that the Syrians had not been fully forthcoming in their declaration,” said Blinken, who was deputy national security adviser at the time of the episode before going on to serve as deputy secretary of state from 2015-2017.

After the Ghouta attack, which killed more than 1,400 people, Obama signaled punitive airstrikes were on their way in response to Assad having crossed his “red line.”

Kerry led the case for military action, stating in an impassioned August 30 speech that “history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings …”

But after Lavrov intervened with the proposal for an agreement to give up the weapons, Kerry championed the agreement as a sensible alternative to punitive airstrikes.

He contended that the threat of strikes had succeeded in forcing Assad to hand over his chemical weapons under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an achievement which he said was far more consequential than limited airstrikes would ever have been.

Critics said he had been outmaneuvered by Lavrov who – after Kerry in a “hypothetical” comment suggested Assad could avoid punishment if he handed over the weapons – seized the opportunity to avoid punitive action against Damascus.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday last week’s chemical attack “in large measure” could be ascribed to “failure on Russia’s part to achieve its commitment to the international community,” to ensure that Assad gave up his entire chemical stockpile under the 2013 agreement.

In their ongoing criticism of last week’s missile strike, both Russia and Iran are underlining the argument that Assad could not have been responsible for the Khan Sheikhun chemical attack because he had given up “all” his chemical stocks.

“The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said in a statement. “The fact of the destruction of all Syrian chemical weapons’ stockpiles has been recorded and verified by the OPCW, a specialized U.N. body.”

“The government of Syria has no sarin gas; ISIS and al-Nusrah do,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. “The government of Syria was verifiably disarmed of all chemical arms by the U.N.; the armed groups were not.”

Russia’s foreign ministry still maintains that the 2013 Ghouta attack was carried out by “militants,” not the Assad regime.

And as for last week’s attack in Khan Sheikhun, it argues that the toxic gas came from a rebel storage facility that was bombed by the Syrian air force

Russian defense ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov charged on Friday that the U.S. missile strike had been planned long before the Khan Sheikhun incident, which was used by the U.S. government as a pretext to act.

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