Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 20

Following the line of the leaked letter from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week, Special Coordinator for the Joint UN-OPCW mission to Syria Sigrid Kaag confirmed that the 30 June deadline will not be met to destroy the Syrian “Priority One” chemicals on board the Cape Ray.  After a confidential report to the UN Security Council, Ms. Kaag met with reporters and said that while “significant” progress has been made, Syria still needed to remove 7.2% of the chemicals from the country.  The approximately 100 metric tons of chemicals left in the country include the precursors needed to make sarin nerve agent, which was allegedly used in the August 2013 attack that prompted international involvement in the ongoing civil war.  The 30 June deadline refers to the agreement to remove and neutralize all of Syria’s chemicals aboard the U.S. MV Cape Ray; first-stage processing of “Priority Two” chemicals and second-stage processing of neutralized chemicals at facilities in Finland, the UK, Germany and the U.S. have a 31 December 2014 deadline

After Kaag’s briefing of the UN Security Council, Russian Ambassador to the United Nation Vitaly Churkin reiterated that the 30 June deadline would not be met.  He told Russian reporters that “the operation to withdraw chemical weapons that was to end on June 30 is somewhat being dragged on…however, if, in the next few days, as we hope, we manage to complete the operation, then Americans will need at least 60 days to destroy the chemicals on board their vessel [MV Cape Ray].”

The 92.8% of the Syrian chemicals that have been transported out of Syria thus far have been placed on the Norwegian Taiko and the Danish Ark Futura ships.  The Taiko left the port of Latakia on 6 June to bring chemicals to the disposal facilities in Finland and the United States.  The Ark Futura will remain in the waters around the port of Latakia until the chemicals are removed from the final facility near Damascus.  The Danish ship will then bring the chemicals to the port of Gioia Tauro in Italy to be transferred to the American ship for destruction via hydrolysis in international waters of the Mediterranean between Italy, Greece, and Libya.

French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal revealed on 5 June that the French investigation into whether chlorine was used against civilians in Syria has not been going according to plan.  He said that “given that…chlorine, which is widely used for civilian purposes is very volatile, the results of the analysis may not necessarily prove to be conclusive.”  It is alleged that the Assad government has been using chlorine gas against civilians; The Telegraph published reports which claimed chlorine had definitely been used and inspectors from the OPCW are currently in Syria investigating these claims.  Last week, the team was attacked and briefly held while going to look at an alleged attack site, but none were harmed.