Syria signs agreements on chemical weapons disposal

Feb. 5, 2014 at 11:22 AM
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MOSCOW, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Syria's Foreign Ministry signed agreements with the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to dispose of chemical weapons.

"Difficulties facing Syria, particularly in the framework of the country's war on terrorism, could hinder the implementation of some commitments from time to time," said Deputy Foreign and Expatriates Minister Fayssal Mikdad. But he added Damascus was fully committed to removal of the chemical stockpiles from the war-torn country.

The pacts legalizing the joint mission to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles was reported by official Syrian radio and television. Mikdad said the government of President Bashar Assad was moving ahead with full implementation of agreements it signed with the United Nations and OPCW since it joined the Chemical Weapons Prohibition Treaty.

The parties also signed a memorandum of understanding on securing medical services and medical evacuation services in the event there is an emergency involving the joint mission.

Syria plans to send a "large shipment" of chemical agents out of the country this month and wrap up the arms removal by March 1, Syrian ally Russia said.

"Literally yesterday the Syrians announced that the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in an interview with the state-supported news agency RIA Novosti.

"They are ready to complete this process by March 1," he said.

His comments followed U.S. criticism last week of the Assad regime's delays in complying with the timetable for eliminating Syria's chemical weapons.

The Obama administration accused the regime Thursday of deliberately stalling the removal of about 1,200 tons of chemical material -- half of it considered especially dangerous -- to gain bargaining leverage.

Just 4 percent of Syria's 530 metric tons of so-called Priority One chemicals -- the most dangerous -- have been removed, when they were supposed to be completely removed by a Dec. 31 deadline, State Department representative Robert Mikulak told the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, Netherlands.

About the same percentage of less-deadly Priority Two chemicals have also been removed, he said.

The Assad regime blamed the delays on security concerns in the areas through which the chemicals would be transported.

They are to be transported in convoys from 12 storage sites to the Mediterranean port of Latakia in western Syria, about 200 miles northwest of Damascus. From there, they are to be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships.

Mikulak told the OPCW the Obama administration rejected those claims.

"These demands are without merit, and display a 'bargaining mentality' rather than a security mentality," he said.

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