Hagel urges Syria to comply with chemical weapons plan

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel urged Syria on Thursday to comply with a plan to destroy its chemical weapons, after failing to meet several deadlines. 

“The Syrian government has to take responsibility of fulfilling its commitment that has been made,” Hagel said at a press conference from Warsaw, Poland, where he is traveling. 

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Syria has already missed a Dec. 31 deadline to remove all of its most toxic “priority one” chemical weapons from the country, and will soon miss a Feb. 5 deadline to remove less toxic “priority two” chemical weapons. 

The plan was brokered by Russia to avert U.S. airstrikes on Syria, after Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against Sunni rebels in its three-year civil war. 

According to the plan, the Syrian government would transport the chemical weapons materials to its port of Latakia, where they would be loaded onto Danish and Norwegian ships, delivered to an Italian port and loaded onto the U.S. merchant vessel Cape Ray. 

The Cape Ray, carrying about 60 Pentagon civilians, 30 crew members and a Navy security squad, would then destroy the weapons materials using two onboard hydrolysis systems while sailing in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Cape Ray departed for Norfolk on Monday evening and will arrive in Italy around Feb. 7. However, only several tons — out of hundreds — of priority one materials have made it onto the European vessels so far. 

“The United States is concerned that the Syrian government is behind in delivering these chemical weapons, precursor materials on time and with the schedule that was agreed to,” Hagel said.

Hagel said he spoke to his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, and asked him to influence the Syrian government to comply with the plan.

“We believe that this effort can continue to get back on track even though we're behind schedule,” he said.