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Archive of fact-check "Kerry: We got '100 percent' of chemical weapons out of Syria"

Editor's note: This is an archive of a fact-check we pulled from the site on April 5, 2017. For more details, read our story.

In Syria, "we struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out."

— John Kerry on Sunday, July 20th, 2014 in comments on NBC's "Meet the Press"

Kerry: We got '100 percent' of chemical weapons out of Syria

By Jon Greenberg on Sunday, July 20th, 2014 at 5:41 p.m.

There’s no other way to say it: The world events of the past week have been crazy. We saw the downing of a Malaysian passenger plane over Ukraine and Israel launching a military ground campaign in Gaza. Add in the ongoing flood of Central American children on the U.S. southern border and the extension of a temporary nuclear deal with Iran, and Secretary of State John Kerry had his hands full as he navigated the Sunday talk show circuit.

Kerry appeared on every network, a feat that’s been dubbed the "Full Ginsberg." On NBC’s Meet the Press, Kerry pushed back against the criticism that President Barack Obama lacks a clear foreign policy.

"What he faces, maybe, is a problem with a bunch of critics who want to jump to conclusions without looking at the facts," Kerry said.

Kerry then offered a list of the administration’s achievements. He touted gains in securing Chinese help to restrain North Korea, a ceasefire in South Sudan, the interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program and progress on the formation of a new government in Iraq.

Syria also made the secretary’s list.

"We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out," Kerry said.

In this fact-check, we decided to take a closer look at that claim about Syria. That country’s civil war dominated the foreign policy debate last summer and the use of shells loaded with chemical agents galvanized the international response. With key help from Russia, Syria agreed to rid itself of all chemical weapons by the end of June 2014.

It was an ambitious goal, particularly in the middle of a civil war. And in large measure, it was met.

The U.S. State Department pointed us to this statement from Ahmet Üzümcü, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the United Nations body in charge of inspections and disposal. On June 24, 2014, Üzümcü declared a major benchmark had been cleared.

"The last of the remaining chemicals identified for removal from Syria were loaded this afternoon aboard the Danish ship Ark Futura," Üzümcü said.

Paul Walker, a long-time chemical weapons inspector with the Green Cross, an independent security group, called this an historic accomplishment. Walker said there are ongoing negotiations over some discrepancies in Syria’s disclosure declarations but he said that is not unusual.

Potentially more significant are two declared stockpile sites, which have yet to be inspected, Walker said. Also, some remaining sites need attention, he said.

"There are still 12 former chemical weapon production facilities which need to be destroyed," Walker said.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Syria had agreed to measures to deal with some of those facilities, but not all. A further mission was underway.

In an odd twist, Walker said the Syrians recently handed over two tanks of Sarin agent.

"Syria declared the two canisters, but stated that they found them in former rebel territory," Walker said. "President Assad has refused any ownership of the tanks."

How the Sarin will be destroyed remains unclear.

Brian Finlay, managing director at the Stimson Center, a private defense policy group, said a total guarantee is never really possible.

"So long as Syria, or any other country for that matter, has a modern agricultural industry, a mining industry, produces paints and inks, or even toothpaste, they will continue to legitimately import and stockpile the chemicals necessary to produce weapons," Finlay said.

Our ruling

Kerry said all of Syria’s chemical weapons had been removed. The UN body in charge said that the last of Syria’s declared chemical weapons left the country in late June. There remain, however, some discrepancies in the details of the weapons the Syrians had acknowledged possessing, and some additional work is needed.

With that qualification, we rate the claim Mostly True.


NBC, Meet the Press, July 20, 2014

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Syria and the OPCW

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Announcement to media on last consignment of chemicals leaving Syria, June 23, 2014

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 8% of Syrian Chemicals Still Remain to be Removed; Fact-Finding Mission in Syria; Some Progress on Syrian Production Facilities, June 17, 2014

Green Cross, Removal of all Syrian chemical weapons completed, June 23, 2014

New York Times, Last of Syria’s Known Chemical Arms Are Shipped Abroad for Destruction, June 24, 2014

Email interview, Brian Finlay, managing director, Stimson Center, July 20, 2014

Email interview, Nicole Thompson, spokeswoman, U.S. State Department, July 20, 2014