Watchdog meets on Syria chemical arsenal destruction plan



THE HAGUE, Charles Onians- The world's chemical weapons watchdog met Friday to approve a final timetable for ridding Syria of its entire arsenal by mid-2014, amid hopes that long-delayed peace talks could be held soon.
Friday is the deadline for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to agree "destruction milestones" for the more than 1,000 tonnes of dangerous chemicals in Syria, according to the terms of a US-Russian deal that headed off US military strikes on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.



A Syrian delegation has been in The Hague, where the OPCW is headquartered, to finalise the roadmap, which is expected to be adopted by consensus by the watchdog's 41-member Executive Council.
The talks were adjourned around 1030 GMT until 1630 GMT, OPCW spokesman Christian Chartier said.
Delegates were "still talking about the text of the decision", a diplomatic source told AFP.
Despite general agreement by the international community on helping Syria get rid of its chemical weapons, contentious points remain. They include the supply of so-called "dual purpose" equipment to help with the transport of the chemicals, and the destination they will be taken to for destruction.
Amid ongoing daily bloodshed in Syria, reports have said that a long-delayed peace conference could be held in Geneva on December 12, although regime and opposition officials have not confirmed the date.
The international community has been trying for months to convene a peace conference dubbed "Geneva II", but proposed dates have come and gone with no progress.
The regime has said it is willing to attend provided Assad's departure is not on the table, while the opposition insists on Assad's departure and exclusion from the transition process.
Assad discussed the talks in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, the Kremlin said, with a high-level Damascus team due in Moscow next week to finalise details of the Geneva conference.
A team of UN-OPCW inspectors has been on the ground since October checking Syria's weapons and facilities.
Destruction of declared chemical weapons production facilities was completed last month and all chemicals and precursors placed under seal, the OPCW said last month ahead of a November 1 deadline backed by a UN Security Council resolution.
There is consensus that the chemicals are best destroyed out of the country, which is wracked by a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The United Nations says the more than two-and-a-half year uprising against Assad's regime has also forced millions to flee their homes.
OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu wrote to the Syria disarmament special coordinator Sigrid Kaag on November 11 laying out a tentative plan for the destruction, a diplomatic source told AFP.
Under the plan, resources for packaging and handling the chemical materials would be sent to 12 chemical storage sites by December 13, the source said, after which the chemicals would be taken to Latakia, Syria's main port on the Mediterranean, and shipped out by February 5.
The Syrians have requested equipment to help the process, including armoured 4x4 vehicles and electronic counter measure (ECM) equipment. But Western nations will not supply them as they could be used against rebels.
Syria's ally Russia could, however, supply such dual-purpose equipment.
Norway and Denmark have already said they would offer ships to take the chemicals out of Syria, with Denmark saying it would also provide a personal protection team for international inspectors.
Albania is considering a request to destroy the chemicals, while France and Belgium are also believed to have been asked for possible help by Washington.
Syria is cooperating with the disarmament operation and has already said it had approximately 1,290 tonnes of chemical weapons and agents as well as 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions, meaning shells, rockets or mortars.
The joint Russian-US Syrian chemical weapons disarmament plan was endorsed by the UN Security Council in September.
The resulting resolution was a last-minute measure to prevent US air attacks on Syria in retaliation for the regime's alleged use of the weapons against its own people after a chemical attack against a Damascus suburb in August left hundreds dead.
The OPCW was this year's recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
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Friday, November 15th 2013
Charles Onians
           


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