US blasts Syria for delaying removal of chemical weapons


Danish ship Ark Futura (L), which will transport chemical weapons from Syria to Italy, lies in the port of Limassol in Cyprus on Jan. 2, 2014.


Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

The United States on Thursday blasted the Syrian government for delaying efforts to remove toxic chemicals from the country.

America's ambassador to the UN-backed Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons, Robert Mikulak, sent a blistering message to the organization, which is overseeing the collection and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons.

Mikulak said the process had "seriously languished and stalled."

He told a meeting at The Hague that only 4 percent of the worst toxins — which include the ingredients to make sarin gas and VX nerve agent — have been removed from Syria despite the expiration of a Dec. 31 deadline for the removal of all "Priority One" chemicals.

The first batch of chemicals was removed from Syria on Jan. 7, followed by another shipment on Jan. 27. The Syrian regime is also certain to miss the Feb. 5 deadline for the removal of all “Priority Two” chemicals.

The chemicals are supposed to be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships and taken to Italy where they will be transferred to a US ship for destruction in international waters by June 30.

Syria blames security concerns

Syria has blamed “security concerns” for delaying the transportation of the chemicals to the Mediterranean port of Latakia, while asking for additional equipment such as armored jackets for shipping containers to ensure their safe transfer.

But Mikulak said the demands were “without merit” and accused the Syrian regime of displaying a “bargaining mentality.”

He pointed out that Syria had often moved the chemicals during the three-year conflict without this “wish list” of equipment.

“The delay by Syria is increasing the costs to nations that have made donations for shipping, escort, and other services related to the removal effort,” Mikulak said.

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Under a deal negotiated by Russia and the United States last year, Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile after an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack, which killed hundreds of people and led to threats of US air strikes.

While Western nations blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces for the attack, the Syrian government said rebels were responsible.

Officials question motives behind delay

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters in Poland that he was "concerned" that Syria was behind schedule and said Damascus "needs to fix this."

"I do not know what the Syrian government's motives are — if this is incompetence — or why they are behind in delivering these materials," Hagel said.

Mikulak’s scathing comments echoed those of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who said in a report to the UN Security Council this week that the delays were unnecessary.

"While remaining aware of the challenging security situation inside the Syrian Arab Republic, it is the assessment of the Joint Mission that (Syria) has sufficient material and equipment to carry out multiple ground movements to ensure the expeditious removal of chemical weapons material," Ban said in the Jan. 27 report.

The delay in getting rid of Syria's chemical weapons also calls into question Assad's continued rule of the country.

"There's a natural tension between a policy that says Assad must stay around and destroy his chemical weapons, and another policy that you want him to disappear," Andrew Tabler, author of "In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle With Syria" told NPR in September.

Tabler described the United States' policy toward Assad as, "We want him to go, but not right now."

Foreign Policy's David Kenner noted:

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