U.N.-OPCW: Syria March chemical deadline likely to be met

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The Syrian government will be able to meet a March 31 deadline to destroy Priority 1 chemical weapons material if it maintains its efforts, Sigrid Kaag, the head of the joint disarmament mission in Syria between the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told Talal Al-Haj, Arabiya News Channel NY Bureau Chief.

“The Syrian authorities will need to continue to invest significantly and keep up the pace [to meet the deadline],” Kaag said, during a special interview with Talal al Haj, Al Arabiya News Channel’s bureau chief for New York and the United Nations.

“It is a matter of balancing the efforts. As you know we need to focus on this part of the exercise, ongoing destruction needs to take place by the authorities and there are ongoing verification and inspection activities,” she added.

Under the agreement between Moscow and Washington reached in Sept. 2013, all the “most harmful, dangerous to humankind” chemical materials, also known Priority 1 must be destroyed by March 31.

Kaag also said that “there is no reason why the comprehensive deadline (June 2014) will not be met.”

During Al-Arabiya special interview, Kaag clarified that the U.S., which has never carried out the demolition of chemical weapons by the chemical procedure of hydrolysis, the called upon its best personnel and technology to ensure the safety of the process.

“What we do know is the U.S. is very confident in its technology and the approach and the design chosen,” Kaag said.

She added that further safety and organization measures had been discussed in Russia last month.

“There is close maritime coordination among the five countries concerned, they all worked the details and operational maritime plan in a meeting in Moscow held on Dec. 27 last year and there is a very good operational plan.”

Kaag added that most of the chemical weapons will be demolished at sea while the less “harmful ones will be destroyed through [a] commercial destruction process in different plants or industrial facilities on land.”

Regarding the budget of the entire destruction operation, Kaags did not specify the full amount the entire process will require.

However, she affirmed the operation was not “short of financing.”
In total, 1,290 tons of chemical weapons and materials are to be destroyed.

The main aim behind the process monitored by both the U.N. and the OPCW is to “help the Syrian authorities destroy its entire chemical weapons,” Kaag said, even though “Syrian authorities are fully responsible and accountable for the management and implementation including security.”

Kaag’s interview with Al Arabiya follows the first shipment of chemical material out of Syria.

Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons under a deal proposed by Russia and hashed out with the United States, after hundreds of people died in an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack that some Western nations blamed on Assad’s government. Syrian authorities deny they used chemical weapons, blaming rebels.

Syria’s two-and-a-half-year civil war has killed at least 125,835 people, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Over two million refugees have fled, often overwhelming neighboring countries.

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