Russia says Syrian toxin removal deadline will be missed
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Deadly toxins that were to have been removed from Syria by December 31 under an international effort to rid the country of its chemical arsenal have not yet been delivered to port to be put on ships, a Russian diplomat was quoted as saying on Friday.
The deadline will be missed because toxins that can be used to make sarin, VX gas and other agents were being packed up and still faced a potentially hazardous trip to the port of Latakia, RIA news agency quoted Mikhail Ulyanov as saying.
"The removal has not yet begun," he said after an international meeting on the chemical arms removal effort.
Syria has agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by next June under a deal proposed by Russia and hashed out with the United States, after an August 21 sarin gas attack that Western nations blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Damascus agreed to transport the "most critical" chemicals, including around 20 tons of mustard nerve agent, out of the northern port of Latakia by December 31 to be safely destroyed abroad away from the war zone.
But the head of that global chemicals weapon watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said earlier this month that the deadline could be missed.
Russia, which has given Assad crucial support during the nearly three-year-old civil conflict in Syria, airlifted 75 armored vehicles and trucks to the nation last week to carry chemicals to Latakia.
Syrian government forces took control of a key highway connecting Damascus to the coast earlier this month, but Ulyanov said the trip could still be treacherous.
"They will have to be taken on dangerous roads, there are several dangerous stretches," RIA quoted Ulyanov, head of the Foreign Ministry's disarmament department, as saying.
He also said experts from several countries, the United Nations and OPCW had reached a "common understanding of the main points" of a plan to get the toxins from the port into international waters, but gave no details.
Ulyanov said on Wednesday that while they are in Syrian waters, Russian and Chinese warships would escort the Danish and Norwegian container ships that are to carry the toxins away for destruction further from the war zone.
(Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)