The United States on Thursday accused Syria of deliberately delaying the surrender of its chemical-weapons stockpiles and of reneging on a pledge to destroy the 12 facilities that produced the chemical weapons.
The criticisms reflected growing impatience with President Bashar Assad of Syria, who renounced his chemical-weapons arsenal and joined the treaty that bans them after an international uproar over an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus widely blamed on Assad’s government.
Under a Russian-U.S. deal that averted a U.S. airstrike on Syria, Assad pledged the arsenal would be destroyed by the middle of this year. His government initially cooperated with an international team overseeing the sequestering of the weapons and destruction of the equipment needed to activate them.
But the cooperation began to falter in adhering to a timetable for exporting the roughly 1,200 tons of chemicals in the arsenal for eventual destruction at sea.
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The Syrians missed the first deadline Dec. 31 for removal of the most dangerous toxins and are likely to miss the second, Feb. 5, when the entire stockpile is supposed to be safely out of the country. Only two small shipments have been exported from the port of Latakia.
A multinational flotilla of ships has been waiting to safely transport the rest.
The U.S. frustration was expressed two days after President Obama described the agreement to eliminate the arsenal as an unqualified success.
“American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated,” he said in his State of the Union address.
The most pointed U.S. criticism Thursday came from the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the group helping the United Nations oversee the arsenal’s destruction.
Ambassador Robert Mikulak said in a statement he presented at the organization’s executive council meeting that since its last meeting, on Jan. 8, “the effort to remove chemical agent and key precursor chemicals from Syria has seriously languished and stalled.”
He said only about 4 percent of the chemicals, half of them considered especially dangerous, had been exported from Latakia — the first public disclosure of how much remains in the country.
He rejected Syria’s assertions that the delays are because of security problems and a need for additional equipment.
Mikulak also expressed U.S. objections to a Syrian proposal that the seven hardened aircraft hangars and five underground structures used for producing the deadly chemicals inside Syria remained “inactivated” rather than be destroyed, as specified under the treaty banning chemical weapons.
He said the United States wanted the roofs of the hangars and entries to the tunnels collapsed, and wanted “the overall structural integrity of the tunnels” compromised.
Material from the McClatchy Washington Bureau is included in this report.