Syria Ships Out More Chemical Arms as Deadline Looms

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Female opposition medics run for cover during clashes between rebels and government forces in the city of Aleppo this month. Syria's regime on Tuesday completed its 17th handover of chemical-warfare materials, according to an international watchdog agency.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
April 22, 2014, 10:47 a.m.

Syr­ia turned over more war­fare chem­ic­als on Tues­day, as over­seers coun­ted down to a Sunday dead­line for the re­gime to sur­render its fi­nal stocks.

The latest chem­ic­al-arms ship­ment out of Syr­ia’s Latakia sea­port left Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment still hold­ing more than 10 per­cent of its de­clared stock­pile five days be­fore the cutoff date es­tab­lished by in­ter­na­tion­al au­thor­it­ies.

A United Na­tions spokes­man last week said fail­ure to meet the Sunday dead­line could sig­ni­fic­antly di­min­ish the like­li­hood that oth­er gov­ern­ments would fin­ish des­troy­ing the ma­ter­i­als in the first half of this year, as man­dated by the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil.

Syr­ia’s dis­arm­a­ment ef­fort has pro­ceeded in fits and starts. The gov­ern­ment missed a goal to fin­ish pla­cing its war­fare ma­ter­i­als on for­eign ships by early Feb­ru­ary, and last week, the re­gime fell short of a new April 13 dead­line for send­ing out its stocks from all but the hard­est-to-ac­cess loc­a­tions.

Still, the head of an in­ter­na­tion­al watch­dog agency said Tues­day’s han­dover — the Dam­as­cus gov­ern­ment’s 17th to date — was “en­cour­aging.”

“We hope that the re­main­ing two or three con­sign­ments are de­livered quickly to per­mit de­struc­tion op­er­a­tions to get un­der­way in time to meet the mid-year dead­line for des­troy­ing Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons,” Ah­met Üzüm­cü, dir­ect­or gen­er­al of the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons, said in a state­ment.

Üzüm­cü’s agency, which is over­see­ing the dis­arm­a­ment pro­cess in co­oper­a­tion with the United Na­tions, said As­sad’s gov­ern­ment has now turned over 88.7 per­cent of its dead­li­est war­fare chem­ic­als and 86.5 per­cent of its total stock­pile.

The re­gime agreed to re­lin­quish hun­dreds of tons of chem­ic­al-war­fare ma­ter­i­als last year, when it faced pos­sible in­ter­na­tion­al mil­it­ary ac­tion after hun­dreds died from a re­lease of sar­in nerve agent in a Dam­as­cus sub­urb in Au­gust.

Mean­while, the chem­ic­al agency on Tues­day an­nounced it was start­ing an ini­tial re­view of claims that chlor­ine was used dur­ing com­bat in Syr­ia this month, ac­cord­ing to the Wall Street Journ­al.

Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al-arms ship­ments for elim­in­a­tion do not in­clude the com­mon in­dus­tri­al sub­stance, but its use in war­fare is banned un­der an in­ter­na­tion­al chem­ic­al-arms treaty that As­sad’s gov­ern­ment joined last year.

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