Syria exports chemical weapons but misses deadline

‘Great progress’ made on shipments, says deputy foreign minister

Smoke rises after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad in the Armenian Christian town of Kasab on April 4th, 2014.  Photograph: Reuters

Smoke rises after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad in the Armenian Christian town of Kasab on April 4th, 2014. Photograph: Reuters

 

The Syrian government has exported 68 tonnes of chemical weapons, boosting the total to 65 per cent of total stocks, Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad told The Irish Times yesterday.

“We have made great progress on shipments,” he said, even though Damascus was unable to meet the April 13th deadline it set for completion of the chemicals’ removal.

Mr Mekdad said the deadline had been missed because of the recent insurgent offensive against the Armenian enclave of Kessab on the Turkish border and the port of Latakia, from where the chemicals are being shipped for neutralisation and destruction at US and European facilities.

The government was compelled to withdraw its forces around the port to counter the offensive, making the area insecure for shipments from Homs. These shipments were of “priority one chemicals”. Therefore the government could not risk insurgent bombardment of the convoys and the release of the chemicals that “could be a calamity” for the Syrian people.

The government also had to ensure the security of UN personnel, Mr Mekdad said. “We downsized shipments for 10-12 days” until the convoys could move safely, he said.


Alleged chemical attacks
The government and the opposition have blamed each other for two recent alleged chemical attacks, one in the north where chlorine is said to have been used and “other sorts of gases” north of the capital.

In spite of these incidents, he said, the situation was improving everywhere.

“The government is advancing. We have achieved success with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the [Saudi-formed] Islamic Front,” he said.

Reconciliation in Homs, Deraa, Hama and Damascus has progressed, he said: “If we can reach a point where this becomes common sense then we will find ourselves in a better situation” although the “armed presence of terrorist groups hinders people going into reconciliation”.

He defended Damascus’s decision to hold a presidential election in coming months: “The election is a must according to the constitution. Going to the people is the best way to meet challenges.”


Power vacuum
He criticised those who say “circumstances are not good” and pointed out elections have been held in Afghanistan and will be conducted in Iraq and other troubled countries.

“We cannot have a power vacuum . . . There will be competition between candidates” and voting will be “free and transparent”, he said.

Asked how long he expected the conflict to last, Mr Mekdad said: “If the US and others halt weapons supplies to armed groups we can reach normalcy very quickly.”

On Geneva he said: “We went to Geneva determined to contribute to its success. What we found there were people who were hungry for power, thinking through Geneva they could achieve what they wanted” as they had failed to achieve this through war.

He said: “If we give power to those who were negotiating . . . the power would go to the Islamic of Iraq and Syria . . . or to Jabhat al-Nusra” which are controlling territory.