Syria is “unlikely” to meet the December 31 deadline set for the removal of its chemical weapons stockpile out of the country for destruction,the United Nations has acknowledged for the first time.
The December 31 deadline was the first “intermediate milestone” set by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
“A number of external factors have impacted upon timelines,not least the continuing volatility in overall security conditions,which have constrained planned movements,” the Joint Mission of the OPCW and the United Nations said on Saturday.
The Joint Mission added that the OPCW Executive Council will meet on January 8,and OPCW-UN Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag will report to the UN Security Council on the same day.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did not sound discouraged at the development saying in a statement that international effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons programme continues to make “effective progress” as demonstrated by the “steady achievements” in meeting all previous milestones the past three months.
The Joint Mission said that preparations continue “in readiness” for the transport of the chemical weapons materials,but “at this stage,transportation of the most critical chemical material before December 31 is unlikely.”
At the end of October,the Syrian government had destroyed critical chemical weapons production equipment,rendering it inoperable.
Damascus had met the deadline set by the OPCW Executive Council to complete the destruction of such equipment by November 1.
According to the plan approved by the OPCW,Syria’s chemical weapons will be transported outside its territory to ensure their destruction in the “safest and soonest manner,” and no later than June 30 2014.
The removal of the chemical agents out of Syria involves transporting them to Latakia,where they will be shipped on commercial vessels provided by some UN member states. They would then be loaded onto a US ship and destroyed at sea.
The Joint Mission said that Syria has indicated its specific requirements,which it deems critical to the package and transport of chemical weapons material.
A wide-scale procurement effort by individual member states has been facilitated by the Joint Mission to source,collect and deliver various packaging and transport materials requested by Syria. Logistical challenges coupled with inclement weather have contributed to this delay.
Ban said in a statement issued by his spokesperson that despite the delay,the Joint Mission continues to work closely and intensively with the Syrian government and the assisting States parties to begin safe and secure removal and transportation operations as soon as possible.
The UN Security Council and OPCW Executive Council had established “ambitious benchmarks and timelines” for the removal and elimination of Syrian chemical weapons programme by the end of June 2014.