EXCLUSIVE - Syria has shipped out less than 5 percent of chemical weapons

AMSTERDAM Thu Jan 30, 2014 5:09am IST

Exterior view of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquarters in The Hague October 11, 2013. REUTERSMichel Kooren/Files

Exterior view of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquarters in The Hague October 11, 2013.

Credit: ReutersMichel Kooren/Files

Related Topics

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, daughter of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, adjusts her flower garlands as she campaigns for her mother during an election meeting at Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

Election 2014

More than 814 million people — a number larger than the population of Europe — are eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.  Full Coverage 

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Syria has given up less than 5 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal and will miss next week's deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The deliveries, in two shipments this month to the northern Syrian port of Latakia, totalled 4.1 percent of the roughly 1,300 tonnes of toxic agents reported by Damascus to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It's not enough and there is no sign of more," one source briefed on the situation said.

The internationally backed operation, overseen by a joint OPCW-United Nations mission, is now 6-8 weeks behind schedule. Damascus needs to show it is still serious about relinquishing its chemical weapons, the sources told Reuters.

Failure to eliminate its chemical weapons could expose Syria to sanctions, although these would have to be supported in the U.N. Security Council by Russia and China, which have so far refused to back such measures against President Bashar al-Assad.

The deal under which Syria undertook to eliminate its chemical arsenal stopped the United States and its allies from launching bombing raids to punish Assad for a chemical attack last August and made clear the limits to international action against him.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested in a report to the Security Council this week that shipments had been unnecessarily delayed and urged the Syrian government to speed up the process.

MESSAGE TO SYRIA

That is the message that will be given to Syria's representative to the OPCW during its executive council meeting on Thursday in The Hague, where the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation is located, the sources said.

A senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the U.N. Security Council will be briefed on the issue by mission head Sigrid Kaag next week.

"All the indications are, and the secretary-general's report makes clear, that actually the regime has been sort of stalling on the implementation of the agreement," the diplomat said.

"It will be important what Sigrid Kaag says about whether she thinks these delays are deliberately politically motivated and why or whether there's any truth in the weather, the security and those more technical aspects," he said.

Another senior Western diplomat said the Syrian government is "teasing us" by dragging its heels but doing enough to avoid being declared in non-compliance with its obligation to destroy its chemical weapons program.

The second diplomat added that Russia would never permit the U.N. Security Council to declare Assad's government in non-compliance with its duty to eliminate its poison gas program.

"The Russians will never accept it," the second diplomat said, adding that Western powers were also reluctant to do anything that could be seen as undermining the Geneva peace talks between Assad's government and the opposition.

"Our impression is that they (Assad's government) are managing this issue in parallel with the Geneva discussion," he said. "Everything is blocked so they are blocking on the chemical weapons to remind us" of their power on this issue.

Syria, where civil war has killed well over 100,000 people and forced millions to flee, has blamed delays on security obstacles. It said the mission could not be safely carried out unless it received armoured vehicles and communications equipment.

A source briefed on the situation said: "Yes, it's true there is a war, but have you ever heard of a civil war without security issues? They have all the necessary means they need for transportation. Now they need to start shipping the chemicals out."

Under a deal agreed by Russia and the United States after the August 21 sarin gas attack, Syria vowed to give up its entire stockpile by mid-2014. The rocket attacks in the outskirts of Damascus killed hundreds, including women and children.

Eradicating Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, including sarin, mustard gas and VX, requires massive foreign funding and logistical support.

The bulk of the most toxic substances are to be destroyed on the Cape Ray, a U.S. cargo ship now en route to the Mediterranean that will be loaded with the chemicals at an Italian port. The remainder will go to several commercial waste processing facilities, including in Britain and Germany.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Giles Elgood and Eric Walsh)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Boat Tragedy

Boat Tragedy

Body of Korean boy who raised ferry alarm believed found.  Full Article 

Big Buyback

Big Buyback

Apple expands buybacks by $30 billion.  Full Article 

Put A Ring On It

Put A Ring On It

Actress Jodie Foster marries girlfriend Alexandra Hedison.  Full Article 

Solar Dispute

Solar Dispute

Green groups urge U.S. to drop solar trade case against India.  Full Article 

Champions League

Champions League

Benzema strike gives Real Madrid edge over holders Bayern Munich.  Full Article 

Most Beautiful

Most Beautiful

Lupita Nyong'o is named the world's most beautiful person by People magazine.  Slideshow 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage