New Syrian chemical-arms removal plan slammed
Proposal to remove arsenal within 100 days after missing deadline criticised by international diplomats as too long.
Syria has submitted a new 100-day plan for the removal of its chemical weapons after failing to meet a February 5 deadline, but the international mission overseeing the operation believes it can be done in a shorter timeframe, diplomats have said.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) executive committee met on Friday in The Hague to discuss the joint OPCW and UN mission amid growing international frustration at Damascus falling behind on its commitments, the Reuters news agency reported.
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The Syrian government, locked in a three-year-old war with rebels seeking President Bashar al-Assad’s overthrow, failed to meet the February 5 OPCW deadline to move all of its declared chemical substances and precursors out of the country.
The final deadline under the OPCW plan is for all of Syria’s declared chemical materials to be destroyed by June 30.
“The Syrian 100-day plan for removal of the chemicals, on which we have been briefed, is not adequate,” Philip Hall, head of the British Foreign Office Counter Proliferation Department, told the OPCW, according to a copy of his statement.
“We now urge the Syrian authorities to accept the proposals submitted by the Operational Planning Group that provide for removal in a much shorter timeframe, without compromising on security.”
A senior UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the international mission believes the operation can be carried out before the end of March, adding that Syria’s proposed end of May deadline would not leave enough time for the chemicals to be destroyed before the end of June.
The OPCW declined to comment on Syria’s proposal.
The US has sent the MV Cape Ray, a ship outfitted with special equipment to neutralise the worst of Syria’s chemicals at sea, and says it will need 90 days to complete the destruction.
“The international community has put into place everything that is necessary for transport and destruction of these chemicals,” said Robert Mikulak, US ambassador to the OPCW.
“Sufficient equipment and material has been provided to Syria. The ships to carry the chemicals away from Syria are waiting.
“The US ship to destroy CW agent and precursors is now in the region and waiting. Commercial facilities to destroy other chemicals have been selected and contracts awarded.
“They are waiting. And yet Syria continues to drag its feet,” he said.
UN disarmament chief Angela Kane said on Thursday in New York that any new plan would need to be endorsed by the OPCW and the UN Security Council.
‘Delays are not insurmountable’
The deal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons, brokered by the US and Russia, was enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution in September.
The resolution does not authorise automatic punitive action in the form of military strikes or sanctions if Syria does not comply. At Russia’s insistence, the resolution makes clear a second council decision would be needed for that.
The worst chemicals are supposed to be destroyed by the end of March and the rest of the arsenal by the end of June.
Sigrid Kaag, head of the international mission, said earlier this month that she did not believe the Syrian government was intentionally delaying the removal of its arsenal, but that accelerated cooperation was vital to meet the mid-year deadline.
“Intermediate milestones ideally should have been met, they have not been met, there are delays,” she said. “Delays are not insurmountable. Delays have a reason, there’s a rationale, there’s a context.”