International authorities may fall short of their aim to destroy Syria's most hazardous warfare chemicals before April, Reuters reports.
Transporting the top-priority substances to the Syrian coast from locations across the war-divided country has proven "quite challenging," said Ahmet Üzümcü, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
His agency wants Syrian President Bashar Assad's full chemical arsenal destroyed by the middle of this year. Disarmament personnel have focused first on removing Assad's mustard blister agent and ingredients for sarin and VX nerve agents. These are to be destroyed on a specially equipped U.S. ship.
When questioned directly on whether the agency would meet the goal of eliminating the "priority" substances by March 31, Üzümcü noted that crews were unable to remove the materials by the end of December, as initially planned.
"From my point of view what is important is really the end [deadline] of June 2014, so we will do our best to meet it," he said.
In comments issued afterward, the chemical-disarmament watchdog agency said Üzümcü "remains confident the deadline of 30 June 2014 for destroying Syria's entire arsenal of chemical weapons can be met."
Elaborating on the operation's difficulty, Üzümcü said "the biggest area of concern is clearly the safe transportation of those weapons, chemical substances, from the sites in Syria to the port of Latakia."
One Western envoy said a Danish transport vessel has so far taken custody of just one-twentieth of the sensitive materials. The priority chemicals eventually are slated to transfer onto a U.S. chemical-destruction vessel at Gioia Tauro, Italy.
Üzümcü said "some additional measures are being taken right now to reduce risks," and noted he had met with Syrian officials on Wednesday to discuss protection of the warfare chemicals.
"We hope that we can move relatively quickly in the coming weeks," he said.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom on Thursday announced it would hire a French firm to burn a separate cache of less dangerous Syrian chemical-arms ingredients at a facility near Liverpool, Reuters reported.