US diplomat: Deadline achievable on Syrian weapons

The complete elimination of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile is possible by a U.N. deadline, the State Department’s top arms control officer said on Friday, but she stressed that would hardly mark the end of the process.

“I’ve been urging people not to declare victory when the last chemicals leave the country. We cannot do that,” said Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.

In addition to destroying its stores of lethal weapons, Damascus must also eliminate the facilities, including various hangars and tunnels, linked to the effort, she told reporters during a breakfast event.

The details of what kind of procedures should be used to eradicate the associated infrastructure are being worked out now, she noted.

Gottemoeller said U.S. officials are also concerned about “omissions” they believe the Syrian government made in the declaration of its chemical stockpile. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international monitoring body that oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention, is already pursuing the inconsistencies.

Damascus ratified the international compact last year as part of a deal to abolish its chemical weapons.

Roughly 92.5 percent of Syria’s chemical stockpile has already been removed from the country, according to Gottemoeller. She said international focus has now turned to a site near Damascus that holds about 7.2 percent of the remaining warfare agents but has proven difficult to access due to local conflicts.

Despite that, Gottemoeller said she doesn’t “see any reason” why the work cannot be completed by, if not before, the June 30 deadline agreed to by the United Nations.

“I would say let’s drive to get all the chemicals out in May. We shouldn’t be hanging around, waiting for June,” she told reporters.

“Yes, it’s a difficult security situation but get the chemicals out, you’ve been moving them anyway during this civil war so let’s get it done,” Gottemoeller said.