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Syria expected to miss chemical destruction deadline

The cargo vessel Taiko that is expected to be loaded with Syria's chemical agents at the Syrian port of Latakia before their transfer out of the country for destruction. (AFP PHOTO/Marthe Brendefur/NORWEGIAN ARMED FORCES)

THE HAGUE: Syria will miss a U.N.-backed June 30 deadline to destroy its chemical arsenal, possibly by several months, sources said Thursday, amid growing Western frustration with Damascus’ perceived delays.

With just 11 percent of Syria’s chemicals out of the country after a series of missed deadlines, an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons meeting Friday will hear calls for Syria to do more.

Because of the missed deadlines, Syria has submitted a new 100-day time frame that sees all its chemicals removed from the country by the last week of May, a source close to the matter told AFP.

The chemicals must then be taken from Syria’s main port Latakia by Western warships to a U.S. vessel, the MV Cape Ray, aboard which they will be broken down at sea using hydrolysis, a process expected to take 90 days.

That would put the destruction well beyond the June 30 deadline agreed by Russia and the U.S. last year as part of a plan to avert U.S.-backed military strikes in the wake of deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus blamed by the West on President Bashar Assad’s regime.

“The Syrians said they could complete getting the agents out of the country by the end of May, that’s unacceptable,” said the source.

The U.N. Security Council on Feb. 6 called on Syria to move faster, transporting chemicals and agents to Latakia “in a systematic and sufficiently accelerated manner.”

Western diplomats at an OPCW Executive Council meeting last month expressed frustration with the repeatedly delayed process, accusing Syria of unilaterally changing the June 30 destruction cutoff into a deadline for the chemicals to have left the country.

“They’re going to be several months over the destruction deadline, but they’re saying if it’s all out of the country by June 30 then so what?” a diplomatic source said.

A U.N.-OPCW Operational Planning Group has come up with an alternative that would reduce the 100-day Syrian plan by 63 days, but the June 30 deadline would still not be met, said a source close to the matter.

Diplomats nevertheless want to keep the mid-2014 deadline, however unrealistic.

“As long as the June 30 date hasn’t passed, it must be kept as a target,” the source said.

Most countries at the OPCW’s Executive Council are frustrated with the delays, although Russia, China, Iran and India do not want to put more pressure on Damascus, the source said ahead of Friday’s “intense” talks.

“There’s no question of haggling, the deadlines have been agreed and they must be respected,” the diplomatic source added.

Syria has said it does not have the right material to transport the chemicals and that it has been hampered by the security situation in the war-torn country.

So-called Priority 1 chemicals were supposed to be destroyed by March 31 but “they won’t even be out of Latakia by then,” a diplomatic source said.

Syria is supposed to have completely destroyed its chemical weapon production facilities by March 15, with another OPCW Executive Council meeting to be held before then.

Syria has declared around 700 tons of most dangerous chemicals, which were supposed to have left the country by the end of 2013, 500 tons of less dangerous precursor chemicals, which were supposed to have left the country by Feb. 5, and around 122 tons of isopropanol.

So far just three small shipments have left Latakia, to be taken to Italy and transferred for destruction onto the U.S. ship MV Cape Ray.

Syria’s isopropanol is to be destroyed by March 1, according to the internationally-agreed time table, and that task is 93 percent completed, a diplomatic source said, with the remaining 7 percent “in a currently inaccessible location.”

U.N. Security Council resolution 2118 was passed after a massive chemical weapon attack that killed hundreds in several opposition areas around Damascus in August.

Rebels and the regime exchanged blame for that attack.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 21, 2014, on page 8.

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Summary

Syria will miss a U.N.-backed June 30 deadline to destroy its chemical arsenal, possibly by several months, sources said Thursday, amid growing Western frustration with Damascus' perceived delays.

With just 11 percent of Syria's chemicals out of the country after a series of missed deadlines, an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons meeting Friday will hear calls for Syria to do more.

Because of the missed deadlines, Syria has submitted a new 100-day time frame that sees all its chemicals removed from the country by the last week of May, a source close to the matter told AFP.

Western diplomats at an OPCW Executive Council meeting last month expressed frustration with the repeatedly delayed process, accusing Syria of unilaterally changing the June 30 destruction cutoff into a deadline for the chemicals to have left the country.


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