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U.S. accuses Syria of stonewalling on chemicals

A worker dressed in protective clothing, handles a dummy chemical World War Two weapon during a media demonstration at the Society for the Disposal of Chemical Weapons and Ordnance (GEKA) in Munster, March 5, 2014. (REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer)

UNITED NATIONS: Syria is stonewalling members of the global chemical weapons watchdog and refusing to seriously negotiate on the destruction of its facilities used to produce poison gas, according to the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

The sharp criticism of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad came after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague said Syria had shipped about a third of its chemical weapons stockpile, including mustard gas, for destruction abroad.

“OPCW trying to reach agreement to destroy CW production facilities-# Syria refusing to seriously negotiate & is [about] to miss another deadline,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Powers said on her Twitter feed late Wednesday.

Last year Syria had asked the OPCW for permission to convert for peaceful use some of the facilities declared under its weapons program, but Western diplomats said they were loath to accept such a plan as it could leave Syria with a residual chemical weapons capability.

“# Syria must accelerate process to comply with @OPCW deadlines-only 20% of priority 1 chemicals removed so far. Delays are dangerous,” Power said. Priority 1 chemicals are the deadliest precursors for poison gas.

Syria’s U.N. envoy Bashar Jaafari to did not respond to a request for comment. The State Department announced that Jaafari would be confined to a 40-kilometer radius from central New York City.

Power’s Tweets followed a briefing that Sigrid Kaag, the head of the joint OPCW/U.N. mission overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal, gave to U.N. Security Council members behind closed doors on progress on eliminating Syria’s poison gas stocks.

Kaag spoke to reporters after her briefing. She was more upbeat than Power in her assessment, saying that continued cooperation by the Syrian government “has been assured by the authorities at the highest level.”

Assad agreed to destroy his chemical weapons following global outrage over a sarin gas attack in August that killed over 1,000 people, many of them children. The world’s deadliest chemical attack in 25 years, it drew a U.S. threat of military strikes that was averted after Assad pledged to give up his chemical arms.

Kaag also declined to comment on a U.N. human rights investigators’ report that said chemical weapons used in two incidents in Syria last year appear to have come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military.

The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, banned under international law, and both have denied it. More than 130,000 people have been killed in Syria’s 3-year-old civil war.

The head of a U.N. chemical weapons probe team, Ake Sellstrom of Sweden, said in January that Syrian authorities who blamed the opposition for the August sarin attack had failed to present a plausible theory for how the rebels could have obtained the nerve agent.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 07, 2014, on page 8.

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Summary

Syria is stonewalling members of the global chemical weapons watchdog and refusing to seriously negotiate on the destruction of its facilities used to produce poison gas, according to the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.

Power's Tweets followed a briefing that Sigrid Kaag, the head of the joint OPCW/U.N. mission overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal, gave to U.N. Security Council members behind closed doors on progress on eliminating Syria's poison gas stocks.

The world's deadliest chemical attack in 25 years, it drew a U.S. threat of military strikes that was averted after Assad pledged to give up his chemical arms.

Kaag also declined to comment on a U.N. human rights investigators' report that said chemical weapons used in two incidents in Syria last year appear to have come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military.


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