March 'Critical' for Syria Chemical Operation

March will be a "critical" month for the operation to remove Syria's chemical weapons, says UN official tasked with overseeing the mission.

Elad Benari ,

UN chemical inspectors in Syria
UN chemical inspectors in Syria

March will be a "critical" month for Syria if it is to maintain its timetable for dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal, the UN official tasked with overseeing the mission said on Wednesday, according to AFP.

"The month of March, as I informed the Security Council, is the critical month to look at continued progress towards the overall deadline," said Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator for a joint mission by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to disassemble the weapons.

After Damascus missed several key dates, the UN Security Council last week demanded that Syria move faster toward the goal of destroying or handing over its arsenal of banned weapons before a June 30 deadline.

Prior to a shipment Monday, the United States estimated that Damascus had shipped out just five percent of its stockpile.

The Syrian government blamed the delays on insecurity in the country, where it is locked in a brutal war with rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Kaag said, however, that there has been "an acceleration and an intensification" of effort by Damascus, and that about 35 percent of weapons material now has been shipped.

The international operation to destroy Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemicals is a joint Russian-U.S. plan that was endorsed by the UN Security Council in September. The resolution was a last-minute measure to prevent an American strike on Syria in retaliation for the regime's alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack on a Damascus suburb in August that left hundreds dead.

While Syria failed to meet a deadline of February 5 to move all of its declared chemical substances and precursors out of the country, it has submitted a new 100-day plan for the removal of its chemical weapons

"A number of shipments have taken place and will continue to take place," Kaag said Wednesday, according to AFP.

"About one third of Syrian chemical weapons materials has been removed or destroyed, she added.

Over the next few days, she said, "we expect to reach already 40 or 41 percent, and we look forward to see continued progress."

Kaag also praised the "unity of purpose and voice of the Security Council" after briefing its members.

The United States and the Syrian opposition blamed the attack, which reportedly killed hundreds of people, on the Syrian regime.

The Syrian regime denied involvement, but under pressure agreed to dismantle its chemical weapons program.