ROME: Security "challenges" in Syria have slowed the transport of raw materials for poison gas and nerve agents to a port for transport and eventual destruction, but the process should pick up in the coming days and weeks, the head of the global chemical weapons watchdog said Thursday.
The head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, said he is still confident that Syria's chemical weapons will be destroyed as scheduled by the end of June.
"We will do our best" to meet the deadline, he said.
In a briefing with reporters, Uzumcu said the OPCW met with Syrian officials in the Hague on Wednesday to discuss the delays. He said additional measures are being taken and "we hope we can move relatively quickly in the coming weeks."
He said in particular the Syrians need transport trucks, armored vehicles, water tanks and other logistical equipment.
The chemicals were supposed to have been removed from Syria by Dec. 31, but poor security, bad weather and other factors meant the deadline was missed. The first batch was loaded onto a Danish ship on Jan. 7. Uzumcu said he expects an announcement about a subsequent loading could come as early next week, but declined to give any specific date.
Uzumcu was in Rome ahead of the announcement of the Italian port where the Danish and Norwegian transport ships will transfer the weapons onto the U.S. cargo vessel Cape Ray for eventual destruction at sea.
The confirmed use of chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, in which the U.S. government said 1,400 people died, prompted a U.S.-Russian agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014.
Uzumcu said the OPCW has received no evidence that chemical weapons have fallen into the hands of rebels or other opposition groups, saying there is speculation but no reports.
He confirmed that the Syrians have reported that there have been strikes on two chemical weapons depots in the past two weeks, but that the OPCW has no independent confirmation. He said there are no indications that any convoys bringing the chemicals to the port of Latakia were targeted.