By Carlo Muñoz - 11/15/13 05:00 PM EST
International weapons inspectors plan to have all of Syria's chemical weapons out of the country and destroyed by next June.
All "priority chemical weapons" in the Syrian arsenal will be eliminated by next March, with the remaining weapons and materials destroyed by that June, according to a statement by the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), confirmed in a statement Friday.
Inspectors have already visited 22 of the 23 weapon sites declared by Syrian President Bashar Assad, and 39 of the 41 facilitates located at those sites. They did not visit the final site, however, because of safety and security concerns.
"This next phase will be the most challenging and its timely execution will require the existence of a secure environment for the verification and transport of chemical weapons," OPCW Director Gen. Ahmet Ümzücü said Friday.
"Continuing international support and assistance for this endeavor will remain crucial," he added.
However, efforts to lock in that international support hit a major roadblock on Friday, when Albania rejected plans to have the weapons destroyed within its own borders.
Weapons inspectors had tagged Albania as one of the "most viable” options for a weapons destruction site.
But Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama pushed back against the group's plans, noting the country does not have the ability to handle large-scale weapons dismantlement efforts.
Albania's denial comes days after Western powers overseeing the dismantlement flatly rejected Damascus's request for military assets to help move those weapons out of Syria.
The aid request by Syrian officials reportedly included a litany of armored vehicles and communications equipment Damascus claimed were essential to safely transport chemical weapons out.
"There is no way that the regime will be supplied with equipment that could be used by the army to kill more innocent Syrians," one senior Western diplomat told reporters at The Hague on Monday.
Wariness in providing support to Syria's disarmament efforts coincides with continuing questions over whether the country is being less than open about its chemical weapon stocks.
"We don't assume ... or take for granted that Syria has declared all chemical weapons-related materials or will fully cooperate" with the United Nations sanctions disarmament plan, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little said Tuesday.
"We continue to review and assess the completeness and the accuracy of Syria's declaration" to fully disarm is chemical stockpile, Little told reporters at the Pentagon.
Concerns that Assad could be holding back a small number of chemical weapons and moving them out of the country with the assistance of the Iranian military or the Hezbollah terror group has clouded the disarmament program since its beginning earlier this year.