Despite a delay in eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons material, the United Nations Security Council expects that there will be no delay beyond the end-of-June deadline for the total removal of all such materials, the head of the group charged with the effort said after briefing the 15-member body today.
The removal of the most critical material for destruction only began yesterday, a week after the deadline for its completion set by an agreement brokered by Russia and the United States under which Syria renounced its chemical weapons material and joined 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons.
“This movement is very important because it’s the first important step in an expected process of continued movement for the onward destruction out of country,” Sigrid Kaag, head of the Joint Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN told reporters after updating the Council on the accord, which set 30 June for the elimination of all materials.
There’s a “collective expectation” by the Council that “looking at the end-of-June deadline there’s no reason to assume that a delay will occur, all things being equal,” she said, while stressing the challenges that could impede the OPCW-UN mission, which is overseeing Syria’s compliance.
“We also have to remember that Syria is a country at war, the security situation can shift from day to day,” she added, citing recent logistic and other challenges that had led to delays in getting the necessary equipment up and working, including the facts that the equipment is coming from many different countries, heavy snow blocked roads and a customs strike caused delays at the border.
“When you look at all these factors combined, this is actually a remarkable achievement that almost everything is now in country, it’s been prepositioned, and it’s already being used and the first movements could actually take place,” Ms. Kaag said, adding that the Syrian Government, which is fighting a collection of various rebel factions, has been “constructive” in its cooperation.
When it comes to the complexity of the task at hand “people will have to remember three things and this is never rhetorical in this particular case: this is an unprecedented effort; it is novel under very bad circumstances which always needs to be remembered, a very challenging in-country situation; [and] security is a big factor in all that takes place,” she added.
“Security when it comes to access to sites, getting caught in crossfire, direct fire, indirect fire, is a concern for the mission,” she said.
In yesterday’s removal a first quantity of priority chemical materials was moved from two sites to the port of Latakia and loaded onto a Danish commercial vessel which then sailed for international waters with a naval escort from Denmark, Norway and Syria. All the so-called ‘priority 1’ chemicals are to be destroyed at sea aboard a US vessel. Lower priority chemicals will be taken to land sites outside Syria for destruction by companies in countries that have agreed to accept them.
Addressing the OPCW Executive Council today in The Hague, Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü called yesterday’s removal of priority chemicals “an important new phase” in the work of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission, noting that the delays were caused by security concerns, the procurement and delivery of large quantities of packaging and transportation materials and equipment, and adverse weather conditions.
Despite these challenging circumstances, Syria has now received “virtually all of the necessary logistical resources for the ground transportation” of priority chemicals to the port of Latakia for removal from Syria, he added.