UN/OPCW coordinator urges Syria to speed up removal of chemical weapons

Photo: UN/OPCW coordinator urges Syria to speed up removal of chemical weapons / Arab World

The Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the U.N., Sigrid Kaag, urged the Syrian authorities to speed up the removal of chemical weapons from the country, Itar-Tass reported.

She briefed the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, February 6, on the progress in eliminating Syria's chemical weapons. Kaag said afterwards that there was "a clear expectation" of swift movement, "the delays are not insurmountable" and "what is important is keeping the eye on the ball".

The 15-member Security Council called on Syria to "expedite actions to meet its obligations to transport in a systematic and sufficiently accelerated manner all the relevant materials to Latakia... and to intensify its efforts to expedite in-country movement," the Council President for February, Raimonda Murmokaite of Lithuania, said.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in late January that "while the two shipments (of chemicals) this month represent a start, the need for the process to pick up pace is obvious. Ways and means must be found to establish continuity and predictability of shipments to assure States Parties that the programme, while delayed, is not deferred."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that even with deadlines being pushed back several times there was still hope that the June 30 target date for completion would be met.

"This may be a very tight target, but I believe it can be done with the support of the Syrian Government," he told a news conference in Sochi, Russia, where he is attending the opening of the Winter Olympic Games. "I expect that they will do it, and also [have the] full logistical and political support from many countries."

The removal of the most critical material for destruction began on January 7, 2014, a week after the deadline for its completion set by an agreement brokered by Russia and the United States under which Syria renounced its chemical weapons material and joined 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons.

Kaag said back then that there was a "collective expectation" by the Security Council that "looking at the end-of-June deadline there's no reason to assume that a delay will occur, all things being equal."

"We also have to remember that Syria is a country at war, the security situation can shift from day to day," she added, citing recent logistic and other challenges that had led to delays in getting the necessary equipment up and working, including the facts that the equipment is coming from many different countries, heavy snow blocked roads and a customs strike caused delays at the border."

The first chemicals removed on January 7 were transported from two sites and loaded onto a Danish vessel which left the port of Latakia. The operation was assisted and verified by the OPCW-U.N. Joint Mission in Syria.

"This is an important step commencing the transportation of these materials as part of the plan to complete their disposal outside the territory of Syria," OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said.

The plan for destroying the Syrian chemical weapons outside of the country, which was submitted to the Executive Council in late December 2013, aims to meet a deadline set by the Council to destroy Syria's priority chemicals by March 31, 2014 and other mostly commodity chemicals by June 30, 2014.

The plan includes provisions for ensuring clear responsibility at each stage for all chemicals and takes into account all relevant consideration, including target dates, requirements for safety and security, and overall costs.

Uzumcu confirmed that "the major elements of a transportation and destruction plan are in place" and that the mission in Syria "is making progress against heavy odds," including a "massive procurement effort" that has gone into the collection and delivery to Syria of materials and equipment. He credited OPCW States Parties for offering transport, destruction facilities and other material assistance, and for making important financial contributions to the Special Trust Fund.

On November 15, 2012, the OPCW Executive Council (EC) approved a detailed plan of destruction to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. In the plan, Syrian chemical weapons will be transported for destruction outside its territory to ensure their destruction in the "safest and soonest manner", and no later than June 30, 2014.

The EC's decision distinguishes between destruction actions "in the Syrian Arab Republic" and destruction activities "outside the territory" of Syria and stipulates intermediate destruction milestones leading to the complete elimination of its chemical weapons programme.

The plan envisions the removal of all declared chemical substances and precursors, except for isopropanol, from Syria no later than February 5, 2014 with the "most critical" chemicals to be transported out of Syria by December 31, 2013. However this was not done because of logistical problems, bad weather and continuing fighting in the parts of Syria where chemical weapons are stored.

Syrian declared chemical weapons facilities will undergo sequenced destruction from December 15, 2013 to March 15, 2014 according to a risk-based criterion.

Under Security Council Resolution 2118 (2013) and decisions of the OPCW Executive Council, Syria's entire chemical weapons programme is to be destroyed by June 30, 2014.

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