Navy officers on the board the Norwegian frigate HNoMS
Helge Ingstad, in Latakia. Norway and Denmark are providing
transport for Syria's weapons from the port. Photo Reuters
The United States has accused Syria of dragging its feet
on the handover of chemical weapons, a delay that puts at risk
what President Barack Obama touted only this week as a US
diplomatic achievement in Syria's civil war.
Saying that just 4 percent of Syria's deadliest chemical
weapons materials had been removed, the Obama administration
said the Syrian government's requests for additional
equipment were "without merit" and demanded action to get
back on schedule to comply with an international disarmament
"The United States is deeply concerned about the failure of
the government of Syria to transport to (the port of) Latakia
all of the chemical agent and precursors as mandated," the
United States told the Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the world's chemicals weapons
watchdog in The Hague.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's decision in September to
give up chemical arms helped him avoid threatened US air
strikes in retaliation for a poison gas attack near Damascus
in August that killed hundreds of people, many of them women
But the internationally backed operation to dispose of
Syria's chemical arsenal is now six to eight weeks behind
schedule and it will miss next week's deadline for sending
all toxic agents abroad for destruction, sources familiar
with the matter have told Reuters.
Delays pose a difficult challenge for Obama, who has faced
criticism at home and abroad for failing to do more to quell
Syria's nearly 3-year-old civil war.
Obama cited the chemical weapons deal in his annual state of
the Union address on Tuesday, saying "American diplomacy,
backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical
weapons are being eliminated."
Underscoring the Obama's administration's anxiety, US Defense
Secretary said he discussed the issue in a call on Wednesday
with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Sergei Shogun,
and asked him to "do what he could to influence the Syrian
government to comply with the agreement that has been made"
for destroying the chemical weapons.
"The United States is concerned that the Syrian government is
behind in delivering these chemical weapons precursor
materials on time with the schedule that was agreed to,"
Hagel told reporters during a visit to Poland.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, a frequent Republican critic of
Obama's Syria policy, said: "Having the Russian disarm Assad
is sort of like Mussolini disarming Hitler; I'm not so sure
it's going to work."
Echoing Hagel's comments, the White House said Syrian needs
to intensify its efforts to transport chemical weapons to the
port of Latakia, from where the material is being shipped
"Syria has said that its delay in transporting these
chemicals has been caused by 'security concerns' and insisted
on additional equipment - armored jackets for shipping
containers, electronic countermeasures, and detectors for
improvised explosive devices," US representative to the OPCW
Robert Mikulak said in the statement to the OPCW's executive
"These demands are without merit, and display a 'bargaining
mentality' rather than a security mentality," he added.
But the administration stopped short of threatening action if
Syria failed to comply.
After threatening and then backing away from military action
last year, there seems to be little support in Congress or
among the war-weary American public for a new US military
entanglement in the Middle East.
Failure to eliminate its chemical weapons could expose Syria
to sanctions, although these would have to be supported in
the U.N. Security Council by Russia and China, which have so
far refused to back such measures against Assad.
"The question will be whether the Russians will tolerate
Assad making them look bad," said Dennis Ross, Obama's former
Middle East adviser. "I suspect he is dragging his feet to
see what he can get away with."