Syria ‘increasing pace’ in chemical removal, watchdog says
Damascus remained behind schedule ahead of a June 30 deadline to hand over or destroy its arsenal
Syria was removing its chemical arsenal at "an increased pace" with almost a third of its stockpile having been taken out of the war-torn country, the world's chemical watchdog said on Friday.
But Damascus remained behind schedule as yet another target date loomed next week, ahead of a June 30 deadline to hand over or destroy its arsenal, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in The Hague.
The body's 41-country Executive Council in a statement noted the "increasing pace" of the removal of Syria's stockpile, at the end of a four-day meeting at its headquarters.
The council also "positively noted" the progress that has been made "with respect to eliminating the Syrian chemical weapons program."
But it also stressed "delays... have occurred about which concerns were expressed."
The combined United Nations-OPCW mission has now verified that nearly 29.0 percent of the total chemical stockpile have been removed for destruction outside the country, the watchdog said.
Earlier this week OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu told the meeting that Syria had submitted a revised proposal to complete the removal of all chemicals from Syria before the end of April after previously saying it could only complete the job by June.
Syria was to have shipped out most dangerous Category 1 chemicals by December 31 and Category 2 chemicals by February 5.
Syria has also destroyed 93 percent of its stocks of isopropanol, used to make sarin nerve gas, a task that was supposed to have been completed by March 1.
Once Syria has delivered its chemicals to the main port Latakia, they are to be taken by Western warships to a U.S. vessel, the MV Cape Ray, aboard which they will be broken down at sea using hydrolysis, a process expected to take 90 days.
That means the entire disarmament and destruction process may well overrun 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 al-Assad's regime.
The next target date is March 15 when Syria is supposed to have destroyed its 12 chemical weapon production facilities.
UN Security Council resolution 2118 was passed after a massive chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in several opposition areas around Damascus in August.
Rebels and the regime exchanged blame for that attack.