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Syria Completes Second Handover of Chemical Arms

A Syrian rebel fighter takes position on Sunday in the city of Aleppo. The Syrian government on Monday completed a second transfer of chemical-arsenal materials for destruction, following Western frustration at repeated delays. A Syrian rebel fighter takes position on Sunday in the city of Aleppo. The Syrian government on Monday completed a second transfer of chemical-arsenal materials for destruction, following Western frustration at repeated delays. (Mohammed Wesam/AFP/Getty Images)

Syria on Monday placed its second load of warfare chemicals on foreign ships for removal and destruction, international authorities said.

"The chemical materials were verified by [international] personnel before being loaded in Latakia port onto Danish and Norwegian cargo vessels," the United Nations and the world's chemical-arms watchdog agency said in a statement.

The release does not specify the type or quantity of substances in Monday's consignment.

The cargo ships were escorted by vessels from China, Denmark, Norway and Russia, according to the Joint Mission statement. The international agencies added its hopes that Syria would continue the removal efforts in "a safe, secure and timely manner."

News of the second shipment came just days after Reuters reported Western worries that Syria might not meet a mid-year chemical-disarmament goal.

Damascus must begin turning over massive amounts of warfare materials to foreign governments within weeks to have much chance of meeting a June 30 cutoff date for destroying its chemical arsenal, insiders told the wire service for a Friday report. President Bashar Assad's regime earlier this month transferred its first 16 metric tons of chemical assets onto a Danish ship, but that milestone was followed by a weeks-long lull in the transport process.

Items in the first transfer made up a relatively small portion of Syria's deadliest warfare chemicals, a 500-metric-ton cache that international authorities want to remove first from the conflict-ridden Middle Eastern nation. The initial shipment comprised an even smaller part of Assad's entire disclosed chemical stockpile, which includes 1,300 metric tons of materials.

"It looks like they are making excuses," said one insider tied to closed-door talks involving the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. "We need to see some more shipments, and not of the same size as this first small one."

The slow progress has come up in the talks, but officials so far have not described the delays as a violation of U.N. Security Council measures inviting new sanctions. Assad's regime confirmed holding chemical arms and assented to their destruction last September, amid international tensions stemming from a sarin nerve agent strike weeks earlier in a Damascus suburb.

"No one is seriously considering reporting [the delays] to the Security Council," said a second, senior-level participant in the closed-door talks. "The issue of noncompliance will occur when people believe they are being misguided and that there is a scheme to stall. We're not there yet."

Damascus wants hardened covers, radio encoders and other protective gear before moving any more chemicals, the senior-level insider said. Western nations say they are unwilling to give Assad's forces any materials that could support their fight against rebels, and it is unclear whether Moscow could provide such supplies to its Damascus ally.

A senior Russian diplomat, though, played down the significance of the disarmament deadlines in comments quoted on Friday by Interfax.

"It was not completely clear to us why our American colleagues insisted on the super-strict schedule," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the publication Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn.

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