The Cable

Syria Has to Open Up Its Chemical Weapons Sites By Tuesday

The Syrian government is required to provide international chemical weapons inspectors "immediate and unfettered" access to any site in Syria starting Oct. 1 and complete the destruction of its chemical weapons production and mixing equipment by Nov. 1, according to a decision to be voted Friday afternoon by the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The arrangements and timetables are part of a U.S.-Russian proposal to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons program by the middle of 2014. The U.N. Security Council is expected to endorse the technical procedures on Friday night.

The deal marks the culmination of several days of intensive negotiation between Washington and Moscow over the details of a chemical weapons inspection. It sets the stage for a dramatic scene in the U.N. Security Council, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will cast their vote on the first major Security Council resolution to be adopted by the Security Council following more than two years of violence in Syria.

Under the terms of the deal, Syria is required to provide the Hague-based disarmament agency with a complete list of all chemicals, precursors, toxins, and munitions in its chemical weapons stockpiles within seven days. In addition, Syria has a week to provide the agency with "the location of all of its chemical weapons, chemical weapons storage facilities, chemical weapons production facilities, including mixing and filling facilities, and chemical weapons research and development facilities, providing specific geographic coordinates." Syria must allow international inspectors to visit locations where those materials are contained within 30 days.

The OPCW's council is scheduled to produce by Nov. 15 a timeline that details a series of disarmament milestones that Syria will be required to meet in order to "complete the elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of 2014."

The arrangements were finalized as a separate team of U.N. weapons inspectors are finalizing investigations into seven incidents where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used in Syria. Those include three strikes that allegedly occurred after the massive Aug. 21 attack in the Damascus suburbs that triggered worldwide outrage and led to the deal for Syria to give up its chemical stockpile.

The inspectors, who began their second fact-finding mission to Syria on Wednesday, are scheduled to leave Syria on Monday and present a final, comprehensive report on their findings to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon by the end of October.

The U.N. team, which is led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, is operating under a mandate that's separate from a new U.N. inspection team that the U.N. Security Council is expected to mandate tonight to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons.

"Since its return to Syria on 25 September, the mission under professor Ake Sellstrom has been able to resume its fact-finding activities related to all pending credible allegations of the use of chemical weapons," said the U.N.'s chief spokesman, Martin Nesirky.

Sellstrom's team has already produced a report proving definitively that the nerve agent sarin was used in the Aug. 21 attack -- and providing compelling circumstantial evidence implicating Syrian forces in launching the strike. But Syria and its key U.N. patron, Russia, have challenged those claims, saying that the rebels carried out the attack.

The team is examining American claims that President Bashar al-Assad's government used chemical weapons in an April 13 attack in the town of Sheikh Maqsud, as well as British and French assertions that the Syrian regime used a nerve agent in the town of Saraqeb on April 29.

The other sites under investigation include four towns where Syria claims to have been targeted with nerve agent by rebels, including Khan al-Assal, a village on the outskirts of Aleppo where Syrian troops were exposed to a toxic agent. Syrian, Russian, and European officials all agree that Syrian forces were exposed to poison gas in Khan al-Assal, but British and French authorities claim that they were caught in a friendly fire incident.

The Syria government claims that Syrian rebels also fired chemical weapons against Syrian authorities outside Damascus in the villages of Bahariye on Aug. 22, Jobar on Aug. 24, and Sahnaya on Aug. 25.

Follow me on Twitter: @columlynch

The Cable

Exclusive: McCain Hires Controversial Syria Analyst Elizabeth O'Bagy

Sen. John McCain has hired Elizabeth O'Bagy, the Syria analyst in Washington who was fired for padding her credentials, The Cable has learned. She begins work Monday as a legislative assistant in McCain's office.

O'Bagy was a young but well-respected advisor at the Institute for the Study of War and had emerged quickly as an important voice among those arguing in favor of intervention in Syria. McCain and others had cited her work publicly before her nascent reputation collapsed when it was discovered that her claims to having a combined master's/Ph.D. were false and that in fact she had not yet defended her thesis.

"Elizabeth is a talented researcher, and I have been very impressed by her knowledge and analysis in multiple briefings over the last year," McCain told The Cable in a statement. "I look forward to her joining my office." McCain's office said there would be no further comment on the matter.

O'Bagy quickly emerged as a lead analyst on Syria after McCain praised an op-ed she had written in the Wall Street Journal, which argued that moderate rebels were able to keep U.S.-supplied weapons from falling into the hands of extremist groups. McCain, who has been the leading voice in Congress for arming moderate rebels, called O'Bagy's analysis "important" during a hearing in September about possible U.S. military intervention in Syria.

At the hearing, McCain asked Secretary of State John Kerry whether he agreed with O'Bagy's conclusions about the Syrian opposition. "I agree with most of that," Kerry replied.

O'Bagy, who is 26, was abruptly shown the door a week later, after it was confirmed that she had padded her academic credentials with a Ph.D. from Georgetown University. She also failed to disclose in her op-ed that she was part of a pro-Syrian rebel political group, the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

O'Bagy claimed that she was a contractor for the task force, not an employee, and didn't participate in any of the group's lobbying efforts. But she acknowledged helping the group set up a meeting between McCain and commanders with the Free Syrian Army.

Several media organizations reported that O'Bagy was enrolled in a Ph.D. program, but a subsequent investigative report by ThinkProgress found that was not the case. "Either O'Bagy was at one point enrolled a PhD program and dropped out, or she has been lying the entire time," the site reported.

Not exactly the standard start to a Senate career.