Third Chemical-Arms Shipment Leaves Syria

A ship docked at Italy's Gioia Tauro seaport, which is slated to host the transfer of warfare chemicals removed from Syria. The Syrian government on Monday turned over a third load of chemical-arms materials as part of an international disarmament operation.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
Feb. 10, 2014, 6:55 a.m.

A trans­port ship on Monday re­moved a third chem­ic­al-arms cache from Syr­ia as part of a glob­al ef­fort to des­troy the rul­ing re­gime’s chem­ic­al ar­sen­al.

The ex­trac­tion of the chem­ic­als by a Nor­we­gi­an cargo ship took place days after the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil form­ally pressed Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment to ac­cel­er­ate trans­fers of its chem­ic­al-war­fare stocks onto for­eign freight­ers, which were ini­tially sched­uled to fin­ish re­mov­ing the bulk of the ma­ter­i­als by last week.

“A sig­ni­fic­ant ef­fort is needed to en­sure the chem­ic­als that still re­main in Syr­ia are re­moved — in ac­cord­ance with a con­crete sched­ule and without fur­ther delays,” Ah­met Üzüm­cü, dir­ect­or gen­er­al of the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons, said in pre­pared com­ments.

Less than 5 per­cent of Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al ar­sen­al re­portedly had been re­moved from the coun­try pri­or to Monday’s ship­ment. No de­tails on the size of the latest de­liv­ery are in­cluded in a state­ment re­leased on Monday by Üzüm­cü’s agency and the United Na­tions.

The or­gan­iz­a­tions con­firmed, though, that As­sad’s gov­ern­ment has pro­ceeded to des­troy “some chem­ic­al ma­ter­i­als” with­in Syr­i­an bor­ders. They did not spe­cify the type or quant­ity of chem­ic­al as­sets tar­geted for do­mest­ic elim­in­a­tion.

Dam­as­cus has at­temp­ted to jus­ti­fy delays in hand­ing over the dead­li­est por­tions of its chem­ic­al ar­sen­al by cit­ing com­plic­a­tions in mov­ing the ma­ter­i­als across the vi­ol­ence-racked na­tion, from in­land stor­age fa­cil­it­ies to the coun­try’s Latakia sea­port. However, the basis for that ar­gu­ment has faced poin­ted cri­ti­cism from in­ter­na­tion­al over­seers, who said As­sad’s gov­ern­ment holds the equip­ment it needs to en­sure the safety of over­land chem­ic­al ship­ments.

Rus­sia, a key ally of the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment, has backed the re­gime’s de­fense of its slow pro­gress in turn­ing over the chem­ic­al stocks. Last week, though, Mo­scow said Dam­as­cus in­ten­ded to hand over a sig­ni­fic­ant por­tion of the re­main­ing ma­ter­i­als by March 1.

U.N. Sec­ret­ary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-moon last week joined Rus­si­an dip­lo­mats in of­fer­ing as­sur­ances that an end-of-June dead­line is still with­in reach for the stock­pile’s full de­struc­tion. The in­ter­na­tion­al push to rid Dam­as­cus of its chem­ic­al ar­sen­al began weeks after a re­lease of sar­in nerve agent took place last Au­gust in a Dam­as­cus sub­urb, al­legedly killing more than 1,400 people. As­sad’s gov­ern­ment denied re­spons­ib­il­ity for the strike, but it ad­mit­ted pos­sess­ing chem­ic­al arms and agreed to co­oper­ate in their elim­in­a­tion.

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