NATO has suspended plans to coordinate with Russia in guarding Syria's deadliest chemical weapons as they are destroyed.
The alliance's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, on Wednesday blamed Russia's armed occupation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula for the military alliance's decision, Stars and Stripes reports. He said NATO would stop discussing an earlier proposed arrangement to team with Moscow in protecting the MV Cape Ray.
The specially equipped U.S. vessel is slated to eliminate 560 tons of Syrian chemical-warfare agents following their removal from Syria, which has been ravaged by three years of civil war.
"We have suspended the planning for our first NATO-Russia joint mission," Rasmussen said in reference to the proposed security cooperation.
"Let me stress, this will not affect the destruction of chemical weapons, but Russia will not be involved in the escort of the U.S. vessel" -- at least not initially, he said.
Rasmussen spelled out a number of measures NATO would take in response to the Russian incursion in Ukraine, saying, "These steps send a clear message: Russia’s actions have consequences," UPI reported.
Syrian President Bashar Assad's government agreed to turn over its chemical arsenal in September, weeks after a nerve-gas strike on the periphery of Damascus prompted international condemnation and calls for military intervention. His regime has continued to deny responsibility for the sarin attack on a rebel-held neighborhood.
On Wednesday, Washington's top delegate to the United Nations accused the government in Damascus of avoiding meaningful discussions on eliminating several former chemical-arms production sites, Reuters reported. The Syrian regime has sought approval for measures short of full destruction of the installations.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is "trying to reach agreement to destroy [chemical-weapons] production facilities," but Assad's government is "refusing to seriously negotiate," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power wrote on Twitter.
Power also criticized Damascus for missing several deadlines to send chemical stocks out of Syria foreign transport ships. The regime has blamed delays on difficulties in protecting the materials during shipment to the port of Latakia, their intended pick-up point.
Meanwhile, the international disarmament operation's special coordinator on Wednesday said she anticipated Syria within days to finish sending out "40 or 41 percent" of its warfare chemicals, the Associated Press reported.
"The month of March, as I informed the [U.N.] Security Council, is the critical month to look at continued progress toward the overall deadline," Sigrid Kaag added in comments to journalists. International authorities are pushing for the full destruction of Assad's chemical stockpile by the end of June.