As Syria deadline nears, OPCW-UN mission focuses on swift removal of remaining chemicals

Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN (OPCW-UN) Sigrid Kaag briefs reporters. UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

4 June 2014 – Given that the 30 June 2014 deadline for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme will not be met, the focus now is on the immediate removal of the remaining materials, the head of the Joint Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations (OPCW-UN) said today.

“The deadline will not be met,” Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag told reporters, referring to the destruction of the full arsenal of the country’s chemical weapons in line with the decisions taken by the UN Security Council and the OPCW Executive Council.

The removal of the most critical material for destruction began in early January, in line with an agreement brokered by Russia and the United States, by which Syria renounced its chemical weapons material and joined 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons.

The removal of the chemical agents out of the country involves transporting them to the port of Latakia, where they will be shipped on commercial vessels provided by some Member States. They will then be loaded onto a United States ship and destroyed at sea using hydrolysis.

Speaking after a closed-door briefing to the Security Council, Ms. Kaag stressed that what is important is that all material is out of harm’s way and destruction can begin as soon as possible aboard the US ship. At the same time, she underlined that “significant” progress has been attained over an “impossible” period of nine months in dismantling most of Syria’s declared chemical weapons programme.

The focus now is on the urgency of the removal of the remaining 7.2 per cent of the declared chemical weapons material, which is still held at one site, and is made difficult owing to the volatile security conditions.

“We have an indication from the authorities that as soon as security conditions permit, removal from the site will happen; additional indications are that this is expected to be soon,” she said.

“The security considerations have been assessed as reasonable,” she noted. “However, that doesn’t mean that additional delays can be incurred.”

The Joint Mission has also spoken to Member States with influence over the parties to the conflict in Syria to assist in this regard. “We call on all Member States to exercise their influence to ensure the immediate removal of the remaining chemicals… the urgency, the time, the pressure to remove the remaining 7.2 per cent is very, very critical.”

The Special Coordinator also discussed with the Security Council the residual activities of the Joint Mission, as well as how it will continue its work and possible successor arrangements when the OPCW Executive Council and the Security Council determine that its mandate has been completed.

“When we speak of residual activities, it doesn’t mean that they’re any less important,” Ms. Kaag said in a separate interview with the UN News Centre. “It is really the remainder of important tasks of the chemical weapons programme that still need to be completed.”

She said these are: the immediate removal of the remaining 7 per cent of chemical weapons material; an ongoing conversation with the authorities on areas of work in the initial Syrian declaration to the OPCW that still need to be addressed; and the destruction of hangars and tunnels that form part of the production facilities.

“But in this context, if you look back at the tremendous progress that has also been attained since the establishment of the chemical weapons elimination programme – the production and mixing facilities, the specialized equipment, the closure of storage sites, the rendering inoperable of a large array of facilities that normally form part of a chemical weapons programme, as well as the start of elimination of all the chemical weapons material – tremendous progress has been achieved and now the final push is to really address all the other areas,” she stated.

“Ultimately, it’s up to the State parties [of the Chemical Weapons Convention] and the Security Council to determine that Syria’s chemical weapons programme has been eliminated and compliance has been attained.”

Ms. Kaag added that she sees the work of the Joint Mission as a “modest, but hopefully meaningful” contribution to peace and security in Syria and the wider region.

“We can only hope that whatever we have done will benefit the people of Syria and the region, and that it is an enabler for the big, urgent humanitarian track, and of course for the political process to continue or be re-started.”

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Head of OPCW-UN mission urges ‘final push’ to complete chemical weapons removal

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