US assisting Jordan in case of chemical warfare with Syria

Amman says kingdom must take precautionary measures as long as UN teams are investigating usage of chemical weapons in Syria

An illustrative photo of US Marines monitoring 'Eager Lion' multinational military exercises in Quweira, Jordan, on June 18, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Maya Alleruzzo)
An illustrative photo of US Marines monitoring 'Eager Lion' multinational military exercises in Quweira, Jordan, on June 18, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

Jordan’s prime minister said Monday that the United States is helping the Hashemite Kingdom deal with any chemical threats that may spill over from the faltering Syrian regime.

Abdullah Ensour told reporters that US army teams are preparing Jordan, in the form of technological assistance and training, to combat chemical warfare that could break out with Syria.

“They provide training and other things in case something should happen,” Ensour said, according to an AFP report. He said Jordan was taking precautionary measures and that the country wanted to be “ready for the possibilities of chemical warfare.”

The prime minister cited the UN team of investigators currently in Syria, saying that as long as war rages along Jordan’s northern border, the kingdom is in need of US technical assistance.

“As long as the UN is investigating [the use of chemical weapons in Syria], it is our duty to assume that such weapons exist and to take precautionary measures,” Ensour stated. “Our duty is to protect our people, border villages, and the Syrian refugees that the kingdom is hosting.”

More than half-a-million Syrians are currently living in Jordan, with approximately 130,000 residing in the Zaatari refugee camp in the north of the country.

The US, fearing an overflow from the Syrian conflict into Jordan, has deployed F-16 fighters, Patriot missile-defense systems, and some 1,000 troops to the Hashemite Kingdom.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, held high-level talks in Jordan last week on the topic of helping the kingdom deal with possible fallout from the Syrian civil war. During the meetings,which were part of his visit to the region, Jordan reportedly requested more assistance — including surveillance airplanes, specialized training for its forces, and intelligence — to help secure its porous border with Syria. The Pentagon, in a statement, confirmed that those types of military support are on the table.

Meanwhile, the team of UN weapons inspectors arrived in Damascus on Sunday for a long-delayed mission to investigate the alleged use of chemical arms in Syria’s civil war.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and the rebels fighting to overthrow him have traded accusations over the purported chemical attacks, each blaming the other side. Negotiations over allowing international experts into the country to investigate the allegations dragged on for months before the UN and the Syrian government finally reached a deal last week.

The 20-member-strong UN delegation, led by Swedish chemical-weapons expert Ake Sellstrom, traveled to the Syrian capital Saturday by car from Beirut. After arriving at a 5-star hotel in central Damascus, plainclothes policemen immediately whisked them away from the crush of reporters and cameramen waiting in the lobby.

The experts are expected to visit three sites where chemical-weapons attacks allegedly occurred, but diplomats and chemical-weapons experts have raised doubts about whether they will find anything, since the alleged incidents took place months ago.

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