Syria ‘to complete chemical weapon shipments by March’

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the RIA Novosti news agency that the authorities in Damascus were planning “a large shipment” this month.

Syria ‘to complete chemical weapon shipments by March’

The Russian government says Syria should complete the shipment of its chemical weapons out of the country by 1 March, weeks behind schedule.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the RIA Novosti news agency that the authorities in Damascus were planning “a large shipment” this month.

Last week, the US said Syria had given up only a fraction of its stockpile.

Moscow also confirmed on Tuesday that the Syrian government would attend the next round of peace talks in Geneva.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said he had “no doubt” representatives of President Bashar al-Assad would take part in negotiations with the opposition.

He spoke to reporters before a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ahmed Jarba, the head of the main Syrian opposition alliance, the National Coalition.

The first round of talks in Geneva ended after 10 days on Friday, without significant progress on key progress or a firm commitment from Damascus to return to the negotiating table.

Mr Jarba says the opposition will attend the next round, scheduled to begin on 10 February, but he wants Mr Lavrov to pressure the government to agree to the implementation of the Geneva Communique, which calls for the formation of a transitional administration.

Deadlines missed

Russia and the US have led the international efforts to secure a political solution to the three-year conflict in Syria and to rid the country of its chemical weapons.

Despite denying that its forces were responsible for a poison gas attack outside Damascus in August that killed hundreds of people, the Syrian government subsequently agreed to the removal or destruction of its chemical stockpile by 30 June.

However, US and British officials last week expressed concern over the Syrian authorities’ failure to meet a series of deadlines for the shipment abroad of its most toxic chemical agents and key precursor chemicals.

So far, only around 30 tonnes out of 1,300 – 4% of the “priority one” chemicals and roughly the same percentage of “priority two” chemicals – have been removed.

On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Lauren Fabius told Europe 1 radio: “Bashar al-Assad’s government must respect the commitments that it has made.”

But Mr Gatilov urged other counties not to “dramatise the situation”.

“Literally yesterday the Syrians announced that they have planned the removal of a large shipment of chemical weapons in February,” he told RIA Novosti. “They are ready to complete this process by 1 March”.

When the plan for Syria’s chemical disarmament was adopted, “many nuances were unknown, so it is logical that these plans could be corrected”, Mr Gatilov added.

The Syrian government has attributed the delays to security concerns and logistical issues.

Representatives at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also said last week that the country remained committed to the deal and that the delays were due to genuine security risks posed by the presence of armed opposition groups.

The OPCW has urged the Syrian government to “accelerate” the removal process, but said the deadlines it set in the autumn are soft target dates and that it remains confident that the ultimate deadline of 30 June is still “completely realistic”.

Source: BBC.

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