Destruction Deadline for Syria’s Deadliest Chemicals May Be Missed

Global Security Newswire Staff
Jan. 17, 2014, 7:07 a.m.

In­ter­na­tion­al au­thor­it­ies may fall short of their aim to des­troy Syr­ia’s most haz­ard­ous war­fare chem­ic­als be­fore April, Re­u­ters re­ports.

Trans­port­ing the top-pri­or­ity sub­stances to the Syr­i­an coast from loc­a­tions across the war-di­vided coun­try has proven “quite chal­len­ging,” said Ah­met Üzüm­cü, dir­ect­or gen­er­al of the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons.

His agency wants Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s full chem­ic­al ar­sen­al des­troyed by the middle of this year. Dis­arm­a­ment per­son­nel have fo­cused first on re­mov­ing As­sad’s mus­tard blister agent and in­gredi­ents for sar­in and VX nerve agents. These are to be des­troyed on a spe­cially equipped U.S. ship.

When ques­tioned dir­ectly on wheth­er the agency would meet the goal of elim­in­at­ing the “pri­or­ity” sub­stances by March 31, Üzüm­cü noted that crews were un­able to re­move the ma­ter­i­als by the end of Decem­ber, as ini­tially planned.

“From my point of view what is im­port­ant is really the end [dead­line] of June 2014, so we will do our best to meet it,” he said.

In com­ments is­sued af­ter­ward, the chem­ic­al-dis­arm­a­ment watch­dog agency said Üzüm­cü “re­mains con­fid­ent the dead­line of 30 June 2014 for des­troy­ing Syr­ia’s en­tire ar­sen­al of chem­ic­al weapons can be met.”

Elab­or­at­ing on the op­er­a­tion’s dif­fi­culty, Üzüm­cü said “the biggest area of con­cern is clearly the safe trans­port­a­tion of those weapons, chem­ic­al sub­stances, from the sites in Syr­ia to the port of Latakia.”

One West­ern en­voy said a Dan­ish trans­port ves­sel has so far taken cus­tody of just one-twen­ti­eth of the sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­als. The pri­or­ity chem­ic­als even­tu­ally are slated to trans­fer onto a U.S. chem­ic­al-de­struc­tion ves­sel at Gioia Tauro, Italy.

Üzüm­cü said “some ad­di­tion­al meas­ures are be­ing taken right now to re­duce risks,” and noted he had met with Syr­i­an of­fi­cials on Wed­nes­day to dis­cuss pro­tec­tion of the war­fare chem­ic­als.

“We hope that we can move re­l­at­ively quickly in the com­ing weeks,” he said.

Mean­while, the United King­dom on Thursday an­nounced it would hire a French firm to burn a sep­ar­ate cache of less dan­ger­ous Syr­i­an chem­ic­al-arms in­gredi­ents at a fa­cil­ity near Liv­er­pool, Re­u­ters re­por­ted.

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