Blair at it again....
PS: Joke of the day: a few days ago, Blair said "we will not attack Syria, it is a country where the President Assad has made and is making huge progress toward democracy..."
Ministers face probe on UK arms for Syria
Sunday April 6, 2003
Britain has exported toxic acid to Syria which could be used to manufacture chemical weapons and has also supplied military optical equipment that could give troops the ability to fight at night, the Observer can reveal.
The disclosure will be highly embarrassing for Tony Blair after the US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently slammed Syria which it accused of illegally transferring weapons to Iraq that threatened the life of American and British forces.
Rumsfeld was particularly concerned at night-vision equipment he believed was being shipped across the Syrian border to Iraqi troops. Backbench MPs have called on ministers to give full details of what the government has sold to Syria. Some have demanded an immediate boycott on arm sales to the country that US classes as a sponsor of Islamic terrorism because of its support for Hizbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Official reports from the Department of Trade and Industry reveal that between 1999 and 2001, ministers granted export licenses for more than Â£1.5m of equipment that could be used for military purposes.
The DTI's 2001 report states that among we exported to Syria were: 'toxic chemical precursors', 'equipment for the use of military infrared/thermal imaging equipiment' and 'military flying helmets'. In 2000 more 'toxic chemical precursors' were exported to Syria as well as military helmets and components for military communications.
Similar such equipment was sold to Syria in 1999 and trade secretary Patricia Hewitt has given an 'open licence' for the export of 'equipment for the use of submachine guns, assault rifles and sniper rifles'.
The Department of Trade and Industry, which authorised the sales believes the toxic chemical precursors will be used as 'stain removers' but has admitted that there is nothing it can do to ensure that the chemicals or weapons are used in the way the Syrian government claims.
A spokesman said ministers simply rely on the assurances of the Syrian government, but the fact that it gave it a military export licence means that the substances could be used to manufacture chemical weapons.
As well as providing a major sanctions-busting route to Iraq, Syria is believed in some quarters to be developing a covert chemical weapon programme. Dr Julian Perry Robinson, an international expert on chemical weapons at the Science and Technology Research Unit at Sussex, said the toxical chemical precursors exported to Syria could easily be used for chemical weapons like nerve gas or mustard gas.
He said: 'Chemicals which the Syrians claim will be used benignly could easily be converted to produce lethal weapons. It is easy for the importer to lie about the end use and without proper safeguards the export of toxic chemical precursors to countries like Syria is worrying.' Robinson who is also said there had been reports that some of Iraq's chemical weapons programme had been 'exported' into Syria to deceive UN inspectors.
British and US intelligence has long suspected Syria has been used by Saddam Hussein to smuggle military hardware into Iraq. Last June intelligence sources suggest that Saddam was using a railway network linked to Syria for a smuggling operation supplying Baghdad with a vast range of military equipment and parts for weapons of mass destrictuion.
The link between Mosul in Northern Iraq and Aleppo the scond-largest city in Syria was opened in August 2001. Freight transport by rail from Syria to Iraq is covered by the oil-for food programme authorised by the United Nations, howeverintelligncee reports have disclosed that Iraq is using the link to import a range of weaponry.
In a visit to London last June Rumsfeld said: 'We know borders into that country are quite porous and we know dual-use capabilites have been flowing in as well as illicit material that are helpful in their programme for weapons of mass destruction.' In Bosnia the recent scandal that revealed illegal military to supplied to Saddam reveals that aircrafte engines and spare parts were being smugged to Iraq via Syrie. The Serbs were discovered to be helping Saddam boost and maintin his anti-aircraft defence in the run-up to war.
The DTI said it believed that 'military infrared/thermal imaging equipment' sold to Syria over recent years was for medical use. Thermal imaging devices highlight people in the darkness by detecting their body heat and defence experts believe it could easily be converted to military use providing invaluable help for an army hoping to repel invaders or mount a counter-attack at night.
Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside condemned the military sales to Syria and suggested there should be embargo against supply arms to the country. She said: 'Ministers must give us full details of all the equipment they supplied to Syria and full assurances of how it will be used. But I question why when we know that Syria sponsor terrorist attacks that we should be supplying any military supplies at all.'
Richard Bingley, a spokesman for the Campaign Against The Arms Trades said: 'UK ministers are in self-denial here. They believe Syria is developing weapons of mass destruction but naively refust to accept that British-supplied equipment will be diverted either into these programmes or neigbouring Iraq.' Syria has claimed the recent US accusations are 'absolutely unfounded'.