Syria Ships Out More Chemical Arms as Deadline Looms

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
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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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