Chemical arms watchdog split on Syria delays

China, Iran and Russia want flexibility over the timetable, but the United States and the European Union insisted on being strict

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The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), tasked with the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal failed Friday to reach agreement on what to do about Damascus’s delays, because of divisions between Syria’s allies and the West.

China, Iran and Russia wanted flexibility over the timetable, but the United States and the European Union insisted on being strict, different sources close to the talks said according to Agence France-Presse.

So far, just 11 percent of Syria’s 1,200 tons of dangerous chemicals have been taken out of the country.

The U.S. rejected a Damascus request for a 100-day extension to an end-May deadline for it to ship out the totality of its chemical arms, according to one source.

“The Syrian government continues to put its energy into excuses, instead of actions,” Robert Mikulak, the U.S. representative in the OPCW said.

The anti-proliferation chief in Britain’s foreign office, Philip Hall, said: “Two weeks on, there has been no substantial progress in removing chemicals from Syria.”

“Our concern is growing that the 30 June deadline for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons will not be met. Syria’s commitment to that date is in question,” Hall said.

All of Syria’s chemical weapons were to be destroyed by June 30 this year, according to an agreement brokered by Russia and the U.S. last year.

Damascus signed on to the deal to avert U.S. military strikes in the wake of deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus blamed by the West on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The plan called for the chemicals to be taken from Syria’s main port Latakia by Western warships to a U.S. vessel which will break them down using hydrolysis, a process expected to take 90 days.

Repeated delays to the process, led to frustration of Western diplomats in the OPCW and the U.N. Security Council on February 6 to call on Syria to move faster.

Syria said it does not have the right material to transport the chemicals and that it has been hampered by the security situation in the war-torn country, according to AFP.

The OPCW’s executive council will meet again on Tuesday, and a formal meeting will be held early March to continue discussion.

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