Third of Syria's chemical weapons surrendered, shipped for final destruction this week
OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu told reporters that maintaining momentum for the weapons removal is critical given the delays and missed deadlines in months prior (Bas Czerwinski/ANP/AFP)
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More than a third of Syria's chemical arsenal has been destroyed or handed over for tentative destruction, according to Agence France Presse Tuesday.
"Nearly one third of Syria's chemical weapons material has now been removed or destroyed," said Sigrid Kaag, who heads the disarmament mission, which is a joint effort between the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Damascus has already missed previous target deadlines from last December and February to hand over the weapons for destruction ahead of the final June 30 deadline. OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu told counterparts earlier this year that despite such missed deadlines, Syria has revised the timeline and actually moved up the final June deadline to the end of April.
In any case, Kaag has called on Damascus to speed up the weapon removal process: "This is good progress [with the announcement that a third of the weapons have been removed] and I expect further acceleration and intensification of effort."
Two weeks ago, only 11 percent of Syria's chemical stockpile had left the port of Latakia as specified under the original weapon removal timeline and plan, according to OPCW meeting records.
Two shipments left Latakia this week and one more is expected to follow this week, which will mean that 35 percent of Damascus' arsenal has been removed from the country, according to Uzumcu. Syria was to have previously shipped out its "most dangerous" Category 1 chemical weapons by the end of last year, and Category 2 weapons by Feb. 5. However, Syrian officials claim that there have been at least two "attempted attacks" on the chemical convoys that were en route to Latakia, but other sources have not confirmed the attacks.
"Given delays since the lapse of the two target dates for removal, it will be important to maintain this newly created momentum," Uzumcu said.
However, the Priority 1 weapons are now supposed to be destroyed by the end of March, and 12 chemical weapon production facilities are set to be destroyed by March 15, but Damascus has told the OPCW that it will be unable to meet either deadline.
The weapons, which are being transported via Western ships from Latakia will then be taken to the US vessel, MV Cape Ray for final destruction using hydrolysis. Because the hydrolysis process takes 90 days, the full disarmament and destruction of the weapon stockpile may well exceed the new April-and even the original June 30-deadlines.
August 2013 chemical attacks around Syria's capital sparked international attention and outrage, leading to the US-Russia deal for the disarmament and destruction of Syria's entire chemical weapon stockpile.