Syria may miss chemical destruction deadline

2014-02-20 21:27
An image grab taken from Syrian television shows an inspector from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at work at an undisclosed location in Syria. (File, AFP)

An image grab taken from Syrian television shows an inspector from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at work at an undisclosed location in Syria. (File, AFP)

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The Hague - Syria will miss a UN-backed June 30 deadline to destroy its chemical arsenal, possibly by several months, sources said on Thursday, amid growing Western frustration with Damascus' perceived delays.

With just 11% of Syria's chemicals out of the country after a series of missed deadlines, an Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) meeting on Friday will hear calls for Syria to do more.

Because of the missed deadlines, Syria has submitted a new 100-day timeframe that sees all its chemicals removed from the country by the last week of May, a source close to the matter told AFP.

The chemicals must then be taken from Syria's main port Latakia by Western warships to a US vessel, the MV Cape Ray, aboard which they will be broken down at sea using hydrolysis, a process expected to take 90 days.

That would put the destruction well beyond the June 30 deadline agreed by Russia and the US last year as part of a plan to avert US-backed military strikes in the wake of deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus blamed by the West on President Bashar Assad's regime.

"The Syrians said they could complete getting the agents out of the country by the end of May, that's unacceptable", said the source.

The UN Security Council on 6 February called on Syria to move faster, transporting chemicals and agents to Latakia "in a systematic and sufficiently accelerated manner".

Western diplomats at an OPCW Executive Council meeting last month expressed frustration with the repeatedly delayed process, accusing Syria of unilaterally changing the 30 June destruction deadline into a deadline for the chemicals to have left the country.

"They're going to be several months over the destruction deadline, but they're saying if it's all out of the country by June 30 then so what?" a diplomatic source said.

An OPCW-UN operational planning group has come up with an alternative that would reduce the 100-day Syrian plan by 63 days, but the June 30 deadline would still not be met, said a source close to the matter.

Diplomats nevertheless want to keep the mid-2014 deadline, however unrealistic.

"As long as the June 30 date hasn't passed, it must be kept as a target", said the source.

Read more on:    un  |  opcw  |  bashar assad  |  us  |  syria  |  russia  |  syria conflict
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