Friday 24 November 2017

Germany sold Syria chemicals with military potential

Scientists believe sarin was used in the chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, in which the US says 1,429 people died (AP)
Scientists believe sarin was used in the chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, in which the US says 1,429 people died (AP)
President of Syria, Bashar Assad
Prof Ake Sellstrom, head of the chemical weapons team working in Syria, gives the report to secretary-general Ban Ki-moon (AP/UN/Paulo Filgueiras)

Germany exported 111 tonnes of chemicals to Syria between 2002 and 2006 that could be used in the production of sarin gas, according to a government document published on today.

But the government rejected a suggestion from an opposition lawmaker that Germany might thereby have inadvertently contributed to the August 21 sarin attack in Syria, which the West blames on President Bashar al-Assad.

The chemicals - sodium fluoride, hydrofluoric acid and ammonium hydrogen fluoride - are classified as "dual use" under European Union law, meaning they can be used for either civil or military purposes. They require special export permits.

In a written response to a parliamentary question from Germany's Left Party, the economy ministry said the chemicals sold between 2002 and 2003, in 2005 and 2006 had a total value of 174,000 euros ($232,300) and were sold for civilian use.

"Permits were granted after careful consideration of all possible risks, including of the goods' misuse or transfer into chemical weapons use. In all cases their planned civil use was considered to be plausible," the ministry stated.

"The German government has no information to suggest that the delivered goods were later used for purposes other than the originally declared civilian purpose," it added.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told ARD television: "We are of course looking into all allegations on this but from what we can see so far the export licence was for civil use."

Jan van Aken, foreign affairs spokesman for the Left party condemned the sale of the chemicals to Syria - a country which "the whole world knew had a huge chemical weapons programme".

"We cannot be sure then whether Germany is not also culpable for the deadly sarin attack in Damascus on Aug. 21", said van Aken, whose party is staunchly pacifist and opposed to arms exports and German involvement in overseas military operations.

United Nations investigators confirmed on Monday that the nerve agent sarin was used in the attack, which Washington says killed 1,400 people in a rebel-held area of Damascus.

Last week, British media reported that Britain also approved the export to Syria of chemicals that can make sarin.

Merkel's centre-right government, which has taken a cautious stance on the Syria crisis before a German general election on Sunday, has come under opposition pressure over a surge in German arms exports, including to Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Arms exports are a sensitive issue in Germany, given the country's Nazi past and the role arms makers like Krupp played in fuelling numerous 19th and 20th century wars.

Modern chemical warfare began on the battlefields of World War One, pioneered by the Germans.

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