U.N. says work to remove Syria's chemical weapons progressing

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- The international team ridding Syria of chemical weapons is preparing to remove "critical" chemicals from the country, a U.N. official said Wednesday.

"The functional destruction of critical facilities and weaponry has taken place," Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations, said in a U.N. release. "We're in full swing to prepare for the removal of the most critical chemical agents out of the country."


Kaag made the comment before briefing the U.N. Security Council on the team's progress.

"There are deadlines that are set that are quite ambitious. They're very stringent, but we are getting as ready as we possibly can so the Syrian Arab Republic -- the government -- can fulfill its commitments under the Chemical Weapons Convention," she said.

The joint mission set up two months ago has been given until June 30 to dismantle the chemical weapons capability of President Bashar Assad's regime, which has been accused of using the weapons on its own people. The team is preparing for "Phase III" of the operation, which is to remove chemical agents from Syria, she said.


The chemical agents are to be transported to the Syrian port city of Latakia, taken by commercial vessels provided by member states to a U.S. ship and then destroyed at sea using hydrolysis.

Precautions are being taken to pack the hazardous chemicals properly so they can be transported safely, she said.

"Above all, the security conditions in-country are such that it's an ongoing concern and it could also at any time derail our ability to meet deadlines," she said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a letter to the Security Council the fighting in Syria makes clear the security situation is "volatile, unpredictable and highly dangerous."

Syria has been mired in internecine strife since March 2011, which presents the potential to prevent the mission from carrying out its tasks.

"We have the collective will of the international community firmly behind us, but there's a lot at stake in the country," Kaag said. "It's a highly complex exercise, it is unprecedented and it takes place in an active war zone."

A key issue is the safety of traveling the main road between Damascus and Homs, she said.

"If we cannot travel there, it is a real issue," she said.


Kaag also called for continued financial assistance from U.N. members to cover the cost of completing the mission.

"That's extremely important and that's the only way we can firmly attest to the fact that the chemical weapons program of the Syrian Arab Republic has been fully eliminated," she said.

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