The Syrian government continues to engage in potentially dangerous brinkmanship following reports it will yet again miss planned deadlines for the destruction of its most deadly chemical weapons, which now could be delayed until next month.
[READ: Inside the Ship That Will Destroy Assad's Chemical Weapons]
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov says Syria may now wait until March to complete the removal of its chemical weapons stockpiles, which includes sarin, VX and mustard gas, according to official Russian news service RIA Novosti. Under an agreement brokered through the Russian government, the Syrian government was supposed to have delivered its most potent chemical weapons, known as “schedule one” by the end of last year. All of its second-most deadly chemicals were to be delivered by this week.Yet less than 5 percent of either of these classes of chemicals has already been delivered to the port city of Latakia where they are to be picked up, leaving most of the estimated 1,300 tons of the weapons still within the active war zone.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry just returned from a security summit in Munich to discuss threats facing Europe and its allies. They expressed cautious optimism that the Syrian government and its close Russian allies would still complete the task, despite concerns they are stalling.
“We believe that this effort can continue to get back on track even though we’re behind schedule,” Hagel said last week. “The Syrian government has to take responsibility of fulfilling its commitment that has been made.”
Hagel said he had discussed the delays with Sergei Shoigu, his Russian counterpart.
A U.S. ship continues to steam toward the Mediterranean Sea to ultimately destroy these chemical weapons. Its mission was designed to take no longer than nine months, though the Syrian delays will likely push that back.
Experts criticized the original plan for destroying these chemical weapons, overseen by the Nobel Prize-winning Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has never before operated in a warzone. Syria must round up chemical weapons from as many as 23 storage sites, move them by ground to the coast through areas seeing some of the harshest fighting. Danish and Norwegian ships will pick up the chemicals, housed in shipping containers, and deliver them to an Italian port, where the U.S. ship Cape Ray will pick them up, sail them out to sea and begin the destruction process.
“They have the tools. They have the resources they need. There’s never been a reason for dragging their feet,” she said. “We’re asking international partners who may have influence with them, including the Russians, to put that pressure on them to see if we can make progress.”
President Barack Obama has called the Assad regime’s reported use of chemical weapons against its own people “an assault on human dignity.”
The U.S. came to the brink of launching aerial strikes against Syria last summer. In the final hour, the president gave the decision over to Congress, and eventually prompted the Syrian government to agree to the disarmament deal.