Syria to miss chemical weapons deadline

 

The United Nations acknowledged that Syria will not finish turning over its chemical weapons stockpile by a June 30 deadline imposed by a U.S.-Russian brokered deal.

“It is imperative that the Syrian Arab Republic concludes the remaining removal operations as quickly as possible, as the authorities have pledged to do,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon informed the Security Council in a letter sent last week and obtained Thursday by The New York Times.

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“However, it is now evident that some activities related to the elimination of the chemical weapons program of the Syrian Arab Republic will continue beyond 30 June 2014," he added.

The letter reported that one of Syria's 12 chemical weapons storage facilities remained open, and that only five of 18 production facilities had been shuttered.

Syrian leader Bashar Assad agreed to forfeit his chemical weapons stockpile after the U.S. threatened military strikes in response to the use of sarin gas by pro-government forces in the country's bloody civil war.

In an agreement negotiated by the U.S. and Russia in September, Syria agreed it would join an international treaty banning the possession of chemical weapons and hand over its complete stockpile by the end of June.

The delay will likely give ammunition to critics of the Obama administration, who have complained that the president's willingness to strike a deal provided Assad an opportunity to retrench against rebel forces. 

Last week, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the U.S. believed the Assad regime "can and should meet the deadline." He said the U.S. expected "Russia to ensure that Syria complies."

Carney, though, sidestepped questions about whether the U.S. would impose penalties if Syria was unable to meet the deadline.

"I think we want to see action now, and we take this matter very seriously and will continue to press for the complete removal of the chemical weapons stockpile," Carney said.

On Wednesday, President Obama suggested the administration would step up its military aid to opposition fighters in Syria, as well as assistance to neighboring countries.

"In helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos," Obama said.