22 Feb 2014

Arms watchdog split on Syria delays

10:38 pm on 22 February 2014

The Hague-based watchdog overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons has failed to agree on what to do about Damascus's delays, because of divisions between Syria's allies and the West.

Sources close to the talks at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons say China, Iran and Russia want flexibility over the timetable but the United States and European Union insist on being strict, AFP reports.

The MV Cape Ray, the US vessel that will destroy the chemicals.

The MV Cape Ray, the US vessel that will destroy the chemicals. Photo: afp

So far, just 11 percent of Syria's 1200 tonnes of dangerous chemicals has been taken from the country.

The United States rejected a Damascus request for a 100-day extension to an end-May deadline for it to ship out the totality of its chemical arms, according to one source.

"The Syrian government continues to put its energy into excuses, instead of actions," said the US representative in the OPCW, Robert Mikulak.

The anti-proliferation chief in Britain's foreign office, Philip Hall, says two weeks on, there has been no substantial progress in removing chemicals from Syria.

"Our concern is growing that the 30 June deadline for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons will not be met."

Under an agreement brokered by Russia and the US last year, all of Syria's chemical weapons were to be destroyed by then.

Damascus signed on to the deal to avert US military strikes in the wake of deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus blamed by the West on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The plan calls for the chemicals to be taken from Syria's main port Latakia by Western warships to a US vessel that will break them down using hydrolysis.

But Western diplomats in the OPCW last month expressed frustration at repeated delays and the UN Security Council on 6 February called on Syria to move faster.