UNITED NATIONS: Syria is “unlikely” to meet a December 31 deadline to move its most dangerous chemical arms out of the country, the United Nations acknowledged for the first time on Saturday (Sunday in Manila)).
The UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said “important progress” has been made on eliminating Syria’s banned weapons, but called on President Bashar al-Assad’s government to “intensify efforts” to meet internationally set deadlines.
The year-end deadline was the first key milestone under a UN Security Council-backed deal arranged by Russia and the United States that aims to wipe out all of Syria’s chemical arms by the middle of 2014.
“Preparations continue in readiness for the transport of most of the critical chemical material from the Syrian Arab Republic for outside destruction. However, at this stage, transportation of the most critical chemical material before 31 December is unlikely,” said a joint UN-OPCW statement.
Syria’s worsening civil war, logistical problems and bad weather had held up the operation to move chemical agents to the port of Latakia, the two bodies said.
Under an internationally agreed plan, the chemicals will be taken to a port in Italy where they are to be transported to a US Navy ship specially fitted with equipment to destroy the weapons at sea, according to the diplomats.
Fighting between Assad’s forces and opposition rebels has held up transportation of the chemicals, and some details of the destruction operation have still not been finalized, UN diplomats said.
The US-Russia deal for Syria to surrender more than 1,000 tons of chemical agents averted US-led military strikes after a chemical weapons attack on August 21 near Damascus that the United States says killed 1,400 people.
The UN and OPCW are monitoring and helping with the operation but the Syrian government has prime responsibility for moving the chemicals.