At the beginning of this week, on 27 January 2014, a second shipment of chemicals, about 20 metric tons of “Priority Two” chemicals, set sail from Latakia in Syria on board a Norwegian freighter, the MV Taiko. Like the previous first shipment on 7 January 2014 of about 20 metric tons of “Priority One” chemicals on board a Danish ship, the MV Arc Futura, this was accompanied by Chinese, Russian, Dutch, and Norwegian naval ships. The US ship, MV Cape Ray, which will eventually process the chemicals on the high seas, left its Norfolk, Virginia port on 27 January 2014 as well on its way to Gioia Tauro in southwest Italy to receive the weapons from the Danish freighter and begin their disposal.
These first two shipments of chemicals out of Syria amount to less than 10% of Syria’s declared total of some 1,335 metric tons. The remaining chemical shipments of some 90% of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile are still reportedly delayed by Syrian concerns over security during land shipment. The Syrian Arab Republic reports that most of the chemicals are pre-positioned at storage sites, although the OPCW Director General says the details are not currently available.
At the OPCW Executive Council meeting of 30 January 2014, U.S. Ambassador Robert Mikulak lodged a complaint to the Council over the very slow progress of the Syrian chemical weapons disposal. He claimed that the Assad regime is using insubstantial “security concerns” as a bargaining chip to impede the process of the weapons’ removal from the country. He said that less than 10% of either the “Priority One” or “Priority Two” chemicals had left Syria and it thus looked like Syria would be unlikely to meet the 5 February 2014 deadline to remove its “Priority Two” chemicals. Mikulak also argued that Syria’s lack of respect for the international community’s time and money is adding to the already substantial costs of the mission.
Both OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also criticized Syria for its long delays. Uzumcu opened the January 30th EC meeting by stating that “the need for the process to pick up pace is obvious.” Ban Ki-moon stated to the UN Security Council on January 28th that “while remaining aware of the challenging security situation inside the Syrian Arab Republic, it is the assessment of the [OPCW-UN] joint mission that [Syria] has sufficient material and equipment to carry out multiple ground movements to ensure the expeditious removal of chemical-weapons material.”
Additional international resources have been recently committed to the Syrian CW demil operation: Russia and China have provided additional security measures for the transport of the chemicals within Syria and on the high seas; the UK has agreed to provide additional naval security; Belarus has provided 13 field kitchens; and Germany has offered to destroy approximately 370 metric tons of toxic effluent from the mustard hydrolysis on board the MV Cape Ray. To date, the OPCW Special Trust Fund for the Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons stands at EUR 13.05 million, with further contributions expected from Italy, South Korea, Australia, the EU, India, and Japan. There are now over 20 countries contributing financial and/or in-kind support, with Canada recently announcing EUR 6.6 million, in addition to its EUR 5 million for the Cape Ray neutralization operation.
The most recent OPCW report on the Syrian operations can be found at http://www.opcw.org/index.php?eID=dam_frontend_push&docID=17081. The official statement of the US Ambassador can be found at http://www.state.gov/t/avc/rls/2014/220783.htm. And a new series of questions and answers from the OPCW can be found at http://www.opcw.org/media-corner/frequently-asked-questions-faq/, and from the OPCW-UN Joint Mission at http://opcw.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=6668&language=en-US.