Syria Is Going to Miss the Deadline for Destroying Its Chemical-Weapons Stockpile

Eight percent of the country’s arsenal remains at a single site, surrounded by a precarious security situation.

The Danish navy vessel HDMS, pictured here in May, is leading the Danish-Norwegian-British task force involved in the removal of Syria's chemical weapons under the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
National Journal
Marina Koren
June 19, 2014, 1:05 a.m.

Nine months after Syr­ia agreed to give up its en­tire chem­ic­al-weapons stock­pile, al­most all of it has left the coun­try, headed for de­struc­tion in the open sea.

But nearly 8 per­cent, or some 100 met­ric tons of chem­ic­als, re­main at a single site in Syr­ia. Reach­ing that site has not been easy, and it looks like the coun­try will miss its tar­get date of June 30 for the total de­struc­tion of its ar­sen­al. The oth­er 92 per­cent has been car­ted out of the coun­try on Nor­we­gi­an and Dan­ish ships trav­el­ing to Italy. There, the chem­ic­al weapons were handed over to U.S. Navy ves­sels, which have been tasked with des­troy­ing them in in­ter­na­tion­al wa­ters.

The last ship­ment out of the coun­try took place around June 8. The re­main­ing 8 per­cent is packed up and ready to go, but Syr­i­an au­thor­it­ies now say that the se­cur­ity situ­ation near the stor­age site would make any at­tempt to re­move the chem­ic­als too dan­ger­ous.

They have reas­on to worry. On May 26, a team of ex­perts and of­fi­cials from the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons, the lead group in the dis­arm­a­ment ef­fort, and the United Na­tions was am­bushed while trav­el­ing to the city of Ka­fr Zita to in­vest­ig­ate al­leg­a­tions of chlor­ine use against ci­vil­ians. The mil­it­ants re­spons­ible had ig­nored a loc­al cease-fire that had been “care­fully ne­go­ti­ated” with the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment and armed op­pos­i­tion groups in the area for that spe­cif­ic day. The team made it back to safety in Dam­as­cus; one driver sus­tained minor in­jur­ies.

But the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion says that Syr­ia is us­ing safety con­cerns as an ex­cuse to stall the OP­CW in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to its chem­ic­al-weapons use. When the dis­arm­a­ment op­er­a­tion began, the area sur­round­ing the site was much safer than it is now, of­fi­cials say. “From the be­gin­ning, we have pressed the As­sad re­gime and we will con­tin­ue to press the As­sad re­gime to com­plete ex­ped­i­tiously re­mov­al op­er­a­tions,” White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney said a few days after the at­tack near Ka­fr Zita.

The ques­tion is wheth­er Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad will listen to the U.S. on that score — and wheth­er Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin, his primary spon­sor, will push him to do it.

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