UK companies 'sold chemical agents to Syria'
British companies have sold chemical gas to Syria over the past six years, the Daily Mail revealed late on Saturday, speculating that the product could have been used to produce the deadly nerve agent that killed more than 1000 people last month.
The report stated that the British government had issued five export licenses to two companies, between July 2004 and May 2010, allowing them to sell sodium fluoride to Syria, a chemical used to make sarin.
The newspaper reported that the government admitted on Saturday night for the first time that the chemical was delivered to Syria. The sale is a breach of international protocol on the trade of dangerous substances.
The sodium fluoride sale was delivered to a Syrian cosmetics company for legitimate purposes, but intelligence experts believe that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime uses these companies to divert chemicals into its arsenal of weapons.
Sarin, is made by combining the fluorine in sodium fluoride with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and phosphorous and is considered one of the world’s most dangerous chemical warfare agents. It disrupts the nervous system, over-stimulating muscles and vital organs.
Thomas Docherty, a British MP and a member of the Commons Arms Export Controls Committee, said that the revelations uncovered by the newspaper were very disturbing.
“At no time should we have allowed President Assad’s regime to get its hands on this substance,” he was quoted as saying, adding that while export licenses had been granted, he thought that no chemicals were actually delivered.
The MP told the Daily Mail the standard procedure is that licenses issued in May 2010 are obtained prior to manufacturing the product, with four to five months before the actual delivery.
“So we are looking at late 2010 for the British supplies of sodium fluoride reaching Syria. The government has some very serious questions to answer.”
The paper also reported that last week it was revealed the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) had granted export licenses in 2012, but were not used to send chemicals to Syria.
A BIS spokesman was quoted as saying that licenses were granted to two UK exporters with the end users being two Syrian commercial companies.
“The quantities of sodium fluoride involved were commensurate with the stated end use in the production of cosmetics and there was no reason to link them with Syria’s chemical weapons program. This remains the case,” the Daily Mail quoted him as saying.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Saturday that the EU's 28 nations agreed that available information show strong evidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical attack on civilians in August.
She said that ministers agreed that the world “cannot remain idle” and said a clear and strong response was needed to prevent any future use of chemical weapons in Syria.