* After 3rd transport, just 11 percent of toxic material
* Shipments so far had only minute quantity of deadliest
* June 30 deadline increasingly unrealistic, sources say
* Syria awaiting armoured containers before sipping worst
By Anthony Deutsch
AMSTERDAM, Feb 14 Syria has relinquished only 11
percent of its chemical weapons in three shipments and is on
track to miss a politically-loaded midyear deadline to
completely destroy the toxic stockpile, sources told Reuters on
Syria should already have handed over the 1,300 tonnes of
toxic chemicals declared to the Organisation for the Prohibition
of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body overseeing the process with
the United Nations under a Russian-American deal.
A third shipment this week contained 54 metric tonnes of
hexamine, a raw material for explosives, bringing the total
shipped so far to a bit more than 140 tonnes, three sources at
the OPCW said.
That includes only about 5 percent of the most toxic
priority chemicals, the sources said.
"Let's be honest, the important materials have not yet been
brought, except a little consignment at the beginning. That
means we are well behind schedule," one source said.
"They must speed up if we are to make the deadline. We
should have been ready (to start destruction) 10 days ago and we
haven't even started."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Sigrid Kaag, the head
of the joint U.N./OPCW mission, have both recently expressed
confidence the June 30 deadline can be met.
The next deadline is the end of March, when the most toxic
chemicals, including sarin and mustard gas and their precursors,
are supposed to have been destroyed outside the country.
"Rather than having handed over 11 percent, I see them as
being 89 percent behind schedule," said another source involved
in the process. "It is imperative that they get a move-on if
they are to meet the target date."
Missing the June 30 deadline would have serious political
implications, with Washington and Moscow having both invested
diplomatic credibility in the chemical weapons elimination
process, brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and
Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart.
The United States has sent the MV Cape Ray, a ship outfitted
with special equipment to neutralise the chemicals at sea, and
says it will need 90 days to destroy roughly 500 metric tonnes
of chemical weapons.
To meet that target, Syria would need to ship dozens of
loads in coming weeks. The sources said this does not appear
It is unclear what will happen if the deadline is missed.
Russia, Syria's key ally at the United Nations, is opposed to
By agreeing to give up his weapons of mass destruction,
Assad averted U.S. led missile strikes, the threat of which was
prompted by the Aug. 21 poison gas attack outside Damascus that
killed hundreds of women and children.
Syria has blamed the delay on the security situation due to
fighting with insurgents, which has been ongoing for nearly
three years and has killed more than 130,000 people and forced
millions to flee their homes.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad has requested
that more than a dozen shipping containers used to transport
chemical weapons be outfitted with metal plating, radio
scramblers and explosive detection equipment, to keep their
The United Nations has said it believes Damascus has all the
equipment it needs and must speed up the process. The chemical
weapons are supposed to be transported from around 10 sites
across the country to the northern port of Latakia, where they
will be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships.
Five armoured containers are expected to arrive this week
and another 10 in the coming month, sources said. However, they
said the armour adds new logistical hurdles to what is already a
complex, expensive international effort.
The armour, funded by the United Nations, is so heavy it
will limit the chemical cargo that can be carried. Cargo will
have to be transferred to other containers when it leaves the
war zone so that the armoured containers can be reused.
"The whole discussion about security is nonsense," said one
Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They
have been moving this stuff around for years without armoured
vehicles, why do they need it now?"
The OPCW said Friday it had awarded two companies contracts
to destroy around 800 metric tonnes of chemicals from Syria and
millions of litres of effluent toxic waste from hydrolysis of
other chemicals onboard the MV Cape Ray.
Ekokem of Finland and a U.S. unit of France's Veolia
Environnement were awarded contracts, which the OPCW had
earmarked 40 million euros for.
The international community has invested heavily in the
operation, providing ships, vehicles, personnel and tens of
millions of dollars in donations to OPCW and U.N. funds.
Washington gave shipping containers, GPS trackers, armoured
vehicles for inspectors, decontamination equipment and the cargo
ship outfitted with a $10 million chemical treatment system.
China sent ambulances and surveillance cameras, Belarus gave
13 field kitchens, Russia donated 75 transport vehicles, 25 of
them armoured. Denmark and Norway provided cargo ships and
military patrol boats. Italy offered use of a port. Germany and
Britain will make available toxic waste destruction facilities.
(Reporting By Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Peter Graff)