DAMASCUS/LONDON: Syria said Wednesday it remains committed to destroying its chemical weapons despite “difficulties” caused by its conflict, as it missed a deadline under an international deal that averted U.S. military action.
“Difficulties that Syria faces, particularly in the framework if its fight against terrorism, may at times prevent it from implementing some of its commitments,” Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said.
But the Syrian government is committed to the deal under which it must turn over all its chemical weapons by mid-2014, he said, quoted by state news agency SANA.
Despite the delays, Mekdad said Syria was working “with determination, strength and credibility to fully implement the agreements with the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition on Chemical Weapons.”
The comments came as Syria missed another key deadline in the process of dismantling and destroying its chemical arsenal.
It was due to have removed all so-called “category two” chemicals, among the less dangerous of those it possesses, from its territory.
Asked in The Hague whether the deadline had been met, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told AFP: “There is no reason to comment. The situation is evident.”
In addition to 700 tons of the most lethal chemicals, which should have left the war-wracked country on Dec. 31, 500 tons of “category two” chemicals were supposed to have been shipped out by Wednesday.
Just two small shipments of chemicals have left the Syrian port of Latakia, accounting for less than 4 percent of the country’s declared arsenal of most dangerous chemicals, the U.S. last month.
Syria’s ally Russia has played down the delays, saying another stockpile would be shipped out this month. “I would not dramatize the disarmament issue,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency Tuesday. He said Damascus was planning to “move out a large amount of chemical substances” this month.
But British Prime Minister David Cameron said London planned to pressure Damascus to get the program back on track.
Cameron, who last August lost a parliamentary vote to authorize British participation in possible airstrikes on Syria, was responding to a question from a senior lawmaker.
Cameron said he shared growing anxiety that the Syrian program had fallen “so badly behind.”
“There do seem to be now indications that the program is slowing and that not all the information necessary is forthcoming,” he told Parliament.
“Britain will continue to put pressure on all parties to make sure the chemicals weapons are produced and destroyed,” Cameron said.
A diplomatic source said Britain would raise its concerns at a meeting Thursday of the Security Council which will hear an update on the Syrian program.
Alistair Burt, a lawmaker in Cameron’s Conservative party, said stalling by Damascus suggested the chemical deal had been a ploy to avert military action and buy time.
“No surprise that Syrian regime in strong position – chemical deal suited them, and allowed killing to go on,” he wrote on the Twitter social media website.