Syria became a full member of the global anti-chemical weapons treaty on Thursday, the country's U.N. envoy said, a move that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad had promised as part of a deal to avoid U.S. air strikes.
Several U.N. diplomats and a U.N. official, however, told Reuters on condition of anonymity that it was not yet clear that Syria had fulfilled all the conditions for legal accession to the treaty.
"I think there are a few more steps they have to take (before Syria is a signatory) but that's why we're studying the document," a U.N. official said.
Syria was one of only seven countries not to have joined the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which commits members to destroying their stockpiles.
"Legally speaking Syria has become, starting today, a full member of the (chemical weapons) convention," Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters in New York after submitting relevant documents to the United Nations.
He said Assad signed a legislative decree on Thursday that "declared the Syrian Arab Republic approval to accede to the convention" and that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem had written to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to notify it of Syria's decision to join the convention.
"The chemical weapons in Syria are a mere deterrence against the Israeli nuclear arsenal," Ja'afari said as he waved a document he said was a CIA report on Israel's chemical weapons program.
"It's a deterrent weapon and now the time has come for the Syrian government to join the (convention) as a gesture to show our willingness to be against all weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Under threat of U.S. military action after an Aug. 21 poison gas attack on Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds, Assad's government agreed to a Russian plan to hand over its chemical arsenal to international control and join the convention.
Assad's government blames the rebels for the attack. Washington blames the government and says the sarin gas used killed more than 1,400 people, including many children.
The United Nations said earlier on Thursday it had received a document from Syria on Thursday on joining the global anti-chemical weapons treaty.
"In the past few hours we have received a document from the government of Syria that is being translated, which is to be an accession document concerning the Chemical Weapons Convention," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.
Assad had told Russian state television on Thursday that Damascus would send the documents on joining the convention in a few days.
"The petition will contain technical documents required to sign the agreement," Assad said in comments translated into Russian. "After that, work will start that will lead to the signing of the convention prohibiting chemical weapons."
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Eric Beech, David Brunnstrom and Bill Trott