Syria to miss chemical weapons deadline, UN Security Council told

UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, said in a letter obtained on Wednesday that 7.2 per cent of Syria’s declared chemical stockpile remains in the country.

UNITED NATIONS // Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has informed the UN Security Council that the June 30 deadline for totally eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons will not be met because the Syrian government says the final shipment of dangerous chemicals can’t be transported safely.

The UN chief said in a letter obtained on Wednesday that 7.2 per cent of Syria’s declared chemical stockpile remains in the country. He said the government insists it doesn’t fully control security in the area where the chemical agents are stored and has “serious concerns about the safety and security” of convoys that will transport the material to the port of Latakia.

“It is imperative that the Syrian Arab Republic concludes remaining removal operations as quickly as possible, as the authorities have pledged to do,” Mr Ban said. “However, it is now evident that some activities related to the elimination of the chemical weapons programme of the Syrian Arab Republic will continue beyond June 30, 2014.”

The international community, shocked by a chemical attack last August that killed hundreds near Damascus, had aimed to remove and destroy 1,300 metric tons of chemicals by June 30. The August attack was blamed on the government of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, which denied involvement.

The 100 metric tons still in Syria are at a storage facility near the capital, Damascus. Ahmet Uzumcu, who heads the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, says the chemicals, including raw materials for making the deadly nerve agent sarin, have been packaged and are ready for transport to Latakia.

Under an agreement brokered by the United States and Russia to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, the government is responsible for getting the most dangerous chemicals to the port, and destroying the rest inside the country. Syria missed several deadlines, including a final April 27 deadline to get all dangerous chemical out of the country.

The most toxic chemicals are being put on Danish and Norwegian cargo ships at Latakia. Once the final 100 tons are loaded, the cargo ships will sail to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro where the chemical containers will be transferred to an American ship, MV Cape Ray, which is equipped with two machines that will render them inert.

It has been clear for several months that the June 30 deadline would almost certainly not be met, because of Syria’s delays and the 60 days needed for the Cape Ray to neutralise the chemicals.

Mr Ban said there is other unfinished business in addition to the removal of the last chemical agents: Syria and the OPCW are still discussing how to destroy 12 chemical production facilities, one item of loading equipment at one facility, and one building at another.

The Security Council is scheduled to be briefed next week by Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission, and UN diplomats say some type of follow-on is expected be discussed.

Also on Thursday, the European Union said it was renewing economic sanctions against Syria, including an oil embargo and asset freezes against allies of Mr Al Assad, for another year.

The measures, which will extend to June 1, 2015, affect 179 people “associated with the violent repression in Syria”, and 53 entities, including the Central Bank of Syria, the EU said in its Official Journal.

Two people and one entity have been removed from the initial list of those subjected to sanctions, which were first unveiled in May 2013.

The renewal of EU sanctions comes just days before a presidential election sure to give Mr Al Assad another term in office, with no political solution in sight for the three-year war that has devastated the country.

The civil war raging since March 2011 has killed more than 160,000 people and forced nearly half the population to flee their homes.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse

Published: May 29, 2014 04:00 AM


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