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U.N. Chief Sees Avoidable Holdups in Syria Chemical Operation

Syrians stand in a destroyed street in the city of Aleppo on Tuesday, following a reported airstrike by government forces. Damascus is capable of moving its chemical arms out of Syria faster than the operation is proceeding, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said this week. Syrians stand in a destroyed street in the city of Aleppo on Tuesday, following a reported airstrike by government forces. Damascus is capable of moving its chemical arms out of Syria faster than the operation is proceeding, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said this week. (Fadi al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week said chemical-disarmament efforts are proceeding too slowly in Syria, strained by unneeded holdups, Reuters reports.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's government has cited worries about protecting its chemical-warfare assets during transport across the violence-plagued nation to the coastal city of Latakia. The regime was scheduled by Dec. 31 to finish moving the deadliest materials onto foreign vessels there for destruction at sea, but only two relatively small loads of the substances have left the country to date.

"While remaining aware of the challenging security situation inside the Syrian Arab Republic, it is the assessment of the joint mission that [Syria] has sufficient material and equipment to carry out multiple ground movements to ensure the expeditious removal of chemical-weapons material," Ban stated in a U.N. Security Council communication made public on Tuesday.

The disarmament project launched shortly after Assad's regime in September confirmed possessing chemical weapons and consented to their elimination. The moves by Damascus came amid reports of an August nerve-gas strike in rebel-held territory.

The U.N. chief said he recently voiced "concern" to Assad's government and other U.N. states over the slow pace of the weapons' removal. International authorities hope for Syria's most hazardous stocks to be fully destroyed by March 31 onboard a specially equipped U.S. ship, and for the rest of its chemical arsenal to be eliminated in nations outside of Syria by June 30.

"The delay is not insurmountable," Ban said, adding that the mid-year cutoff date "is still five months away."

Nonetheless, he added, "it is imperative that the Syrian Arab Republic now examine the situation, intensify its efforts to expedite in-country movements of chemical weapons material and continue to meet its obligations."

Meanwhile, doing away with 12 chemical-production plants is the planned focus of a February discussion between Russian, U.S. and Syrian specialists, a U.N. insider told ITAR-Tass on Tuesday.

"The meeting will deal with technical and legal aspects of the work to eliminate the facilities. This will be a closed-door meeting which is scheduled for the first 10 days of February in The Hague," the source said.

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