LONDON: Hundreds of tons of chemicals “likely” to have been used by Syria to make the deadly nerve gas sarin were exported by British firms in the 1980s, Foreign Secretary William Hague said Wednesday.
Hague said the chemicals, which can be used legitimately for making plastics and pharmaceuticals, were exported by unnamed British companies to Syria between 1983 and 1986.
“We judge it likely that these chemical exports by U.K. companies were subsequently used by Syria in their programs to produce nerve agents, including sarin,” he added.
Sarin has been linked by Western powers to a string of attacks during the Syrian conflict.
The United Nations says there was “clear and convincing evidence” that sarin was carried into the opposition-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta on surface-to-surface rockets in August last year.
The U.S. had threatened to take military action against Syria following the attack, which killed around 1,400 people, but ultimately shied away from strikes.
An international operation to destroy Syrian chemical weapons, negotiated after the Ghouta attack, is now in its final phase.
Controls on exports of such chemicals from Britain were introduced after the sales took place, in the mid-80s, Hague said, insisting that “such exports could not happen today.”
His remarks came in a statement to Parliament issued after the BBC first reported the claims this week.
Hague said Britain would destroy a further 50 tons of material from Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, taking the total amount it has agreed to process to 200 tons.
Britain had previously agreed to accept 150 tons of Syrian poison gas precursors for destruction by French firm Veolia Environment in northern England.
“A further 50 tons of the industrial chemicals hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride will also be destroyed in specialized commercial facilities in the U.K.,” Hague said in a written statement to parliament.
Hague said a ship carrying the chemicals was expected to arrive in Britain next week.
Foreign powers have scrambled to find countries to destroy the chemicals. The most toxic are first being processed on board a U.S. ship. Less dangerous precursor chemicals are being destroyed commercially at industrial facilities.