Financial News

  • 10 July 2014, 6:04

Syria 'Likely' Used UK Chemicals To Make Sarin

Chemicals exported by British firms to Syria in the 1980s are likely to have been used to make the nerve agent sarin, the Foreign Secretary has said.

In a written statement to MPs, William Hague said a review of records showed a number of companies exported substances to the country between 1983 and 1986.

These substances had legitimate uses in producing plastics and pharmaceuticals and were not restricted under international or UK law.

"However, they can also be used in the production of sarin," Mr Hague said.

"DMP (chemical dimethyl phosphite) and TMP (trimethyl phosphite) can also be used for the production of the nerve agent VX.

"That is why the export of such goods is strictly prohibited under the UK export regime introduced since the 1980s and progressively strengthened.

"From the information we hold, we judge it likely that these chemical exports by UK companies were subsequently used by Syria in their programmes to produce nerve agents, including sarin."

Mr Hague said some of the firms involved no longer existed, while some of the chemicals supplied may have been sourced by a UK chemical trader, rather than produced in the UK.

In addition, he said an export of ventilation fans by a UK firm to Syria in 2003 appeared to have been diverted for use in a chemical weapons facility.

"However, knowledge of these exports, and growing concerns that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was developing a chemical weapons capability, helped prompt the introduction of tighter controls, both in the UK and internationally," the Cabinet minister said.

Mr Hague said there had been "a complete overhaul" of export control legislation, policy and practice since the 1980s and that the UK now operated "a robust export control regime".

He said the UK was playing its full part in the international effort to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons programme and had accepted the responsibility to destroy around 200 tonnes of its stockpile in specialised commercial facilities in the UK.

A report by UN chemical weapons inspectors found "clear and convincing" evidence that chemical weapons were used in attacks that killed hundreds of people, including children, in Damascus on August 21 last year.

Britain and the US accused Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime of deploying chemical weapons against rebel forces.

However, the Syrian government dismissed the allegations and claimed opposition fighters were behind the deaths.