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Key U.N. Official Spreads Blame for Syria Chemical Delays

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

A man runs down a street in the Syrian the city of Aleppo as a boy flashes a "victory" sign following an alleged Friday airstrike by the Syrian government. A U.N. official this week said security complications in the conflict-torn country are partly to blame for delays in the Syrian regime's transfer of chemical weapons into foreign custody. A man runs down a street in the Syrian the city of Aleppo as a boy flashes a "victory" sign following an alleged Friday airstrike by the Syrian government. A U.N. official this week said security complications in the conflict-torn country are partly to blame for delays in the Syrian regime's transfer of chemical weapons into foreign custody. (Baraa al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images)

A senior U.N. official this week suggested that Syria's government is not entirely to blame for delays in an operation to destroy its chemical weapons.

The Middle Eastern nation's security situation "impacts nearly every dimension" of an operation to remove and eliminate hundreds of tons of warfare chemicals from its violence-plagued territory, according to Angela Kane, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs.

She spoke shortly before international authorities on Friday reportedly proposed giving President Bashar Assad's regime until the end of next month to finish shipping out the stocks, a process it was earlier scheduled to complete more than two weeks ago. That proposal and an alternative timeline from Damascus appeared to leave the disarmament mission's overseers with little hope of meeting their goal of fully destroying the Syrian chemical arsenal by the end of June.

Kane, though, noted that Damascus "completed initial actions before the established deadlines" for the operation, such as eliminating its chemical-arms preparation gear and offering data on its chemical-weapons inventory.

Still, the U.N. official stressed that the Syrian government ultimately remains "exclusively" responsible for making sure its chemical weapons are completely destroyed. Assad's government admitted holding the stockpile and pledged to give it up last year, after a large-scale nerve gas release killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb controlled by its opponents.

The United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have done "everything possible to facilitate the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons," she asserted in remarks prepared for delivery in New York earlier this week.

Kane provided little detail on specific security challenges faced by disarmament personnel. However, she said the obstacles partially mirror dangers faced by international investigators who last year confirmed at least five chemical strikes in the country.

Reaching one location could require those inspectors to negotiate with "up to 40 different groups, moving from checkpoint to checkpoint," she said.

The U.N. official added that Assad's government "does not control [significant parts] of its territory, including locations where chemical weapons were allegedly used or where chemical weapons facilities are located."

Damascus has denied using its chemical arms in combat, and has placed blame for chemical strikes on rebel forces.

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