Syria crisis: UK weapons experts could be sent to assist international efforts to rid Assad regime of chemical weapons

Foreign Secretary William Hague rules out UK troops being deployed to provide experts with security

Britain is willing to send experts to Syria to assist international efforts to rid the Assad regime of chemical weapons, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

But Mr Hague ruled out UK troops being deployed to provide them with security, adding that such action might create strong feelings within Syria and alternative arrangements would be looked at.

Under an agreement between the United States and Russia, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime is required to submit a full inventory of its chemical stockpile by the end of the week, allow international inspectors into the country by November and complete the surrender of its arsenal by mid-2014.

Mr Hague said he hopes a UN security resolution enshrining the Syrian regime's responsibility to hand over its chemical weapons stocks will be drawn up over the weekend.

Asked if British troops could be deployed to Syria, Mr Hague told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "No. We will not be sending British troops into Syria. Not for these or any other circumstances. We won't be sending boots on the ground, deploying boots on the ground in Syria.

"I don't think that would be a good way to provide security inside Syria, given that might create strong feelings within Syria, so that would have to be provided in a different way."

On the issue of sending British experts, Mr Hague said: "Well, we're open to that. We would want to be confident about their security. I think all countries that have expertise in this area should be ready to use it, to deploy it as part of an international team.

When asked again on the matter of sending UK experts if there was a requirement, the Foreign Secretary confirmed: "We'd be willing to do so."

Mr Hague said there has to be confidence that the people dealing with the weapons are secure.

He continued: "Of course, all the areas concerned are in regime hands. Interestingly, given all the debate in the past about whether this was the regime or the opposition, there is no consideration being given to securing chemical weapons held by the opposition because nobody actually believes they've got any.

"Even the Russians are not discussing the declaration and destruction of opposition-held chemical weapons because even they don't think they really exist.

"So this is all about places in regime-held territory. It should be possible to make security arrangements but again this is a perfectly legitimate question, but that all remains to be sorted out in the coming days.

"I hope the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) will come to its decision by the end of the week. We'll then be working on agreeing a security council resolution over the weekend. Of course, those timetables might slip but we're looking at days, not weeks."

Earlier the Foreign Secretary said UK involvement will depend on the arrangements made by the OPCW and what is agreed at the security council.

He said: "We do have experts in these matters in the UK. When the inspectors went in in the last few weeks, the Syrian regime wouldn't agree to have anybody from the UK or the US."

Questioned on whether the Syrian regime still has the right to make such refusals, Mr Hague said: "That depends on the terms of the resolution, the work of the OPCW."

Mr Hague said he did not think it would be the case that Assad could choose who comes to look at his chemical weapons.

He said: "But that, of course, is all being sorted out and what he is not able to choose now is whether to declare there's chemical weapons and to get rid of them. So this is undoubtedly an advance compared to where we were a few weeks ago."

PA

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