Syria disarmament plan delayed

The rapidly deteriorating security situation in Syria is forcing international weapons inspectors to delay destruction plans for the country's chemical weapons stockpiles. 

Officials from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced Tuesday it may not be able to reach its goal of having all of the Syrian chemical arsenal destroyed by the end of this month. 

"There is a possibility we may have to revisit the upcoming target date of Dec. 31," the official told the Associated Press on Tuesday. 

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The official did not comment as to when the disarmament plan could be completed, as a result of the delay. 

Working under a United Nations mandate, OPCW inspectors have spend the past several months confiscating and destroying Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical weapons arsenal. 

Earlier this year, Assad declared his regime owned more than 1,000 metric tons of weaponized chemical agents, including nerve gas, dispersed over 22 sites in the country.

In November, OPCW members announced that all of the Assad regime's chemical weapons assets have been seized and accounted for, putting the group on track for the December deadline. 

But the inspection mission has been plagued by violence, as Syrian opposition forces and regime troops continue to battle openly in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and elsewhere in the country. 

Attacks on OPCW groups reached a point where the organization temporarily suspended its inspections, over security concerns. 

Those threats of violence are now preventing the group from coordinating transportation of the chemical weapons and materials out of Syria for destruction. 

Initial plans would have the materials loaded onto Danish and Norwegian commercial ships, which would then transfer the hazardous materials onto the U.S. commercial vessel the MV Cape Ray. 

The Cape Ray is currently at the Navy shipyard in Norfolk, Va., being outfitted with field deployable hydrolysis system technology, which will allow U.S. forces to safely dispose of those chemical stockpiles, according to the Pentagon. 

The ship and its hydrolysis system are slated to undergo sea trials off the coast of Virginia in December, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters on Monday. 

Administration officials approved the use of the Cape May for possible disarmament operations earlier this month. 

The Pentagon has so far declined to comment on whether the Cape May's possible deployment to the Syrian coast would be the extent of Washington's involvement with the disarmament program. 

In October, Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE suggested American and NATO forces would play a significant role in the United Nations-sanctioned disarmament program in Syria. 

Pentagon estimates drafted last July reportedly estimated that 70,000 U.S. troops would be needed to lock down Assad's chemical weapons program, should the White House give the order. 

That said, "there are no plans to have any U.S. forces in any way in Syria," Hagel said at the time.