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Syria's Deadliest Chemicals to Be Removed by March: Diplomat

Syrian opposition fighters drive a tank during Monday clashes with government forces on the outskirts of Aleppo. Damascus intends to finish relinquishing its most lethal warfare chemicals by March 1, according to a government envoy. Syrian opposition fighters drive a tank during Monday clashes with government forces on the outskirts of Aleppo. Damascus intends to finish relinquishing its most lethal warfare chemicals by March 1, according to a government envoy. (Mohammed Wesam/AFP/Getty Images)

A Syrian diplomat said the most lethal components of its chemical arsenal would be out of the country by March 1, Reuters reports.

International authorities wanted President Bashar Assad's regime to reach that milestone by the end of December, but the removal has proceeded slower than anticipated. Damascus, which on Monday placed its third load of warfare chemicals on a foreign ship, has attributed delays to threats the warfare materials face during shipment across contested Syrian territory to their coastal pick-up point.

"A large part of the chemical weapons, the most dangerous stocks, will be taken out of the country by March 1," Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad said in comments reported by Interfax.

Haddad added that he expected his government to "stick to the [June 30] deadline" for the arsenal's complete destruction.

The U.S. chemical-destruction vessel MV Cape Ray is expected within days to reach the Spanish port of Rota, where it would dock until Syria's most dangerous chemical-warfare stocks are ready to be neutralized onboard the ship, Stars and Stripes quoted Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren as saying on Monday.

Meanwhile, Syrian regime personnel have eliminated all but 7 percent of the government's isopropanol, according to a Monday statement by Ahmet Üzümcü, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Isopropanol is the sole chemical-arms ingredient that Syria's government is permitted to eliminate on its own, the Wall Street Journal reported. Damascus originally had 122 metric tons of the material, which is widely available for peaceful applications in industry.

Assad's government admitted holding a chemical-arms stockpile and assented to its destruction several weeks after sarin nerve agent killed hundreds of people on the outskirts of Syria's capital last August. The regime contends it did not carry out the nerve-gas attack on the opposition-held Ghouta suburbs.

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