World and Nation

UN says that Syria must quicken chemical arms purge

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. diplomat coordinating the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria said Thursday that the government of President Bashar Assad needed to “pick up the pace,” but she stopped short of blaming the Syrian authorities for the missed deadlines in exporting the most deadly chemical materials.

The diplomat, Sigrid Kaag, told reporters after privately briefing the Security Council, “Delays are not insurmountable.”

The effort to destroy the chemical arsenal, which involves exporting 1,200 tons of toxic materials including components for mustard gas and sarin nerve agent, is well behind schedule, with two deadlines missed already. Concern is growing that the final deadline of June 30 for eradication of the entire arsenal could be missed as well.

Kaag declined to specify why deadlines had been missed, except to cite abiding security risks. She said the final deadline could be met.

Asked if Syria was deliberately stalling, she said: “No, I don’t think so,” adding, “Delays have a reason.”

The Security Council issued a statement expressing concern about “the slow pace” of the work and said the Syrian government had sufficient materials and equipment to carry out the elimination of its chemical weapons arsenal, despite the nearly 3-year-old civil war raging in the country.

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, suggested earlier in the week that the United States was partly to blame for the delay, saying the U.S. ship on which some of the chemicals are to be rendered harmless had not arrived yet in the Mediterranean Sea. But Churkin expressed confidence that the project would be “accomplished in a timely manner.”

“Those chemicals are going to be destroyed,” he said.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, rejected Churkin’s criticism Thursday, telling reporters that the delays had nothing to do with the impending arrival of the U.S. ship, the Cape Ray.

“It’s time for the Assad government to stop its foot-dragging, establish a transportation plan and stick to it,” she said.

The new concern over Syria’s chemical weapons, which Assad committed to destroy in an agreement reached four months ago, was just one of the Syrian issues confronting the United Nations on Thursday. Another was the frustrated effort to send emergency food and medicine into besieged areas of the country, including the Old City section of Homs, which government forces have surrounded.