MOSCOW: The most dangerous elements of President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons stockpile will be removed from Syria by March 1, the Syrian ambassador to Russia said on Tuesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Syria missed a Dec. 31 deadline to remove its most poisonous chemical agents under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States to avert a threatened U.S.-led military strike against Assad's forces after a chemical weapons attack last year.
Damascus also failed to give up its entire stockpile by Feb. 5, sparking worries that it would then miss a final deadline of June 30 to eliminate its chemical weapons programme completely.
"A large part of the chemical weapons, the most dangerous stocks, will be taken out of the country by March 1," Interfax quoted Syrian ambassador Riad Haddad as saying. "I think we'll stick to the (June 30) deadline."
Damascus has blamed delays on security problems and the threat of rebel attacks on convoys taking chemical weapons by road to the northern port of Latakia. It has requested additional armour and communications equipment.
But the United States and the United Nations, which is jointly overseeing the destruction programme with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said last week Syria has all the equipment it needs to carry out the operation and should proceed as quickly as possible.