Syria warns that without help, efforts to destroy chemical weapons will fail

Syria’s deputy foreign minister warned Monday that efforts to rid his country of chemical weapons could fail if the international community does not contribute money and equipment.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister warned Monday that efforts to rid his country of chemical weapons could fail if the international community does not contribute money and equipment.

Faisal Mekdad told reporters at a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons his country needs armoured vehicles and other resources to move chemicals out of Syria for destruction.

“Without these resources it will be difficult if not impossible for Syria and for all OPCW to implement the decisions,” he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also said in a letter to the Security Council that the mission needs an “unprecedented effort” by the world.

The OPCW is aiming to destroy Syria’s entire chemical weapons program by mid-2014. It is the first time the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization has attempted such a disarmament effort in the midst of a civil war.

Syria only joined the organization late this year to ward off possible airstrikes by Washington, which blamed President Bashar Assad’s regime for an Aug. 21 sarin attack on a Damascus suburb. Assad denies responsibility.

Dutch diplomat Sigrid Kaag told the meeting that key pieces of the complex puzzle that makes up the international plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program are in place.

Norway and Denmark have offered merchant ships to help transport chemicals and the United States will provide a ship on which the most toxic chemicals can be destroyed at sea.

Some three dozen private companies also have expressed an interest in destroying less toxic chemicals, which make up the bulk of the 1,300 metric tons of weapons and chemicals declared by Damascus. But the key challenge to the ambitious timeline remains Syria’s ongoing civil war.

“Given the complexity of the mission and the unpredictable operating environment, many factors remain outside the control of the joint mission,” Ban said.

Kaag, who leads the joint United Nations-OPCW mission in Syria, said the highway linking Damascus and Homs was closed recently as she visited the port of Latakia in a helicopter. The highway, which has been the scene of a months-long government offensive against rebels, is an artery to coastal ports.

“To get the material to port, it is necessary that roads are open and are safe and secure to use,” Kaag said.

Mekdad expressed optimism that Damascus could win the fight.

“We hope shortly we’ll be in control of the entire road,” he said. “These terrorists do not respect borders, or highways or United Nations or OPCW so we have to be very careful that’s why we are asking for all these requirements to ensure a successful conclusion of the entire process.”

While Syrian forces bear primary responsibility for security for the chemical disarmament mission, Kaag said she was reaching out to all sides — including rebel groups — in the conflict that is in its third year.

In his letter, which included a progress report on the mission, Ban said Syrian authorities, “are being encouraged to consider alternative options to ensure the safety and security of inland transportation for the chemical material.”

He said that as of Nov. 25, a trust fund set up by the OPCW to fund the mission held 10.8 million euros ($14.6 million) and the U.N. trust found a further $2 million from the U.S. and pledges of 250,000 euros ($338,000) each from Denmark and Luxembourg. Other nations have made “voluntary in-kind contributions.”

They can include flights, the use of bases and equipment.

Packaging materials that will be used when toxic chemicals are transported have already started to arrive in Lebanon and the mission has organized a course to train Syrian personnel in preparing the chemicals to be moved out of the country by sea.

According to Ban’s letter, Syria amended its initial declaration to the OPCW to increase the total amount of declared munitions to approximately 1,260 items.

It also says that in its initial declaration on Oct. 23, Syria declared “possession of chemical weapons, chemical weapons productions facilities, abandoned chemical weapons, riot control agents, and other chemical weapons-related facilities and chemical industry facilities.”

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