Key U.N. Official Spreads Blame for Syria Chemical Delays

A man runs down a street in the Syrian the city of Aleppo as a boy flashes a "victory" sign following an alleged Friday airstrike by the Syrian government. A U.N. official this week said security complications in the conflict-torn country are partly to blame for delays in the Syrian regime's transfer of chemical weapons into foreign custody.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
Feb. 21, 2014, 10:10 a.m.

A seni­or U.N. of­fi­cial this week sug­ges­ted that Syr­ia’s gov­ern­ment is not en­tirely to blame for delays in an op­er­a­tion to des­troy its chem­ic­al weapons.

The Middle East­ern na­tion’s se­cur­ity situ­ation “im­pacts nearly every di­men­sion” of an op­er­a­tion to re­move and elim­in­ate hun­dreds of tons of war­fare chem­ic­als from its vi­ol­ence-plagued ter­rit­ory, ac­cord­ing to An­gela Kane, U.N. high rep­res­ent­at­ive for dis­arm­a­ment af­fairs.

She spoke shortly be­fore in­ter­na­tion­al au­thor­it­ies on Fri­day re­portedly pro­posed giv­ing Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s re­gime un­til the end of next month to fin­ish ship­ping out the stocks, a pro­cess it was earli­er sched­uled to com­plete more than two weeks ago. That pro­pos­al and an al­tern­at­ive timeline from Dam­as­cus ap­peared to leave the dis­arm­a­ment mis­sion’s over­seers with little hope of meet­ing their goal of fully des­troy­ing the Syr­i­an chem­ic­al ar­sen­al by the end of June.

Kane, though, noted that Dam­as­cus “com­pleted ini­tial ac­tions be­fore the es­tab­lished dead­lines” for the op­er­a­tion, such as elim­in­at­ing its chem­ic­al-arms pre­par­a­tion gear and of­fer­ing data on its chem­ic­al-weapons in­vent­ory.

Still, the U.N. of­fi­cial stressed that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment ul­ti­mately re­mains “ex­clus­ively” re­spons­ible for mak­ing sure its chem­ic­al weapons are com­pletely des­troyed. As­sad’s gov­ern­ment ad­mit­ted hold­ing the stock­pile and pledged to give it up last year, after a large-scale nerve gas re­lease killed hun­dreds of people in a Dam­as­cus sub­urb con­trolled by its op­pon­ents.

The United Na­tions and the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons have done “everything pos­sible to fa­cil­it­ate the elim­in­a­tion of Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons,” she as­ser­ted in re­marks pre­pared for de­liv­ery in New York earli­er this week.

Kane provided little de­tail on spe­cif­ic se­cur­ity chal­lenges faced by dis­arm­a­ment per­son­nel. However, she said the obstacles par­tially mir­ror dangers faced by in­ter­na­tion­al in­vest­ig­at­ors who last year con­firmed at least five chem­ic­al strikes in the coun­try.

Reach­ing one loc­a­tion could re­quire those in­spect­ors to ne­go­ti­ate with “up to 40 dif­fer­ent groups, mov­ing from check­point to check­point,” she said.

The U.N. of­fi­cial ad­ded that As­sad’s gov­ern­ment “does not con­trol [sig­ni­fic­ant parts] of its ter­rit­ory, in­clud­ing loc­a­tions where chem­ic­al weapons were al­legedly used or where chem­ic­al weapons fa­cil­it­ies are loc­ated.”

Dam­as­cus has denied us­ing its chem­ic­al arms in com­bat, and has placed blame for chem­ic­al strikes on rebel forces.

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