* Chemical watchdog says security woes hampering transport
* Met Syrian authorities Wednesday to try to reduce risks
* Italy's Gioia Tauro port to be used to transfer chemicals
By Steve Scherer
ROME, Jan 16 The removal and destruction of the
most dangerous agents in Syria's chemical arsenal will likely be
delayed because of security and logistical problems, but the
final deadline of the end of June for eliminating all chemicals
remains, the head of the world's chemical weapons watchdog said
The goal for eradicating mustard gas and principal chemical
components for making Sarin and VX - known as "priority A"
chemicals - was originally the end of March.
Syria has already missed a Dec. 31 goal to transport the
most toxic substances to a port and so far has loaded only a
relatively small amount of chemicals - around 5 percent,
according to a senior Western diplomat in New York - onto the
Danish cargo ship Ark Futura.
Ahmet Uzumcu, head of the Organisation for the Prohibition
of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said he was "confident" that all the
chemicals could be destroyed by the end of June - the original
deadline for the complete elimination of Syria's chemical
weapons programme and associated agents.
When asked whether the March 31 destruction deadline for the
priority chemicals would be met, Uzumcu said: "As we were not
able to meet the timeline for the 31st of December ... from my
point of view what is important is really the end of June 2014,
so we will do our best to meet it."
The OPCW later released a statement saying Uzumcu had
confirmed while speaking in Rome that he "remains confident the
deadline of 30 June 2014 for destroying Syria's entire arsenal
of chemical weapons can be met."
The OPCW is overseeing the destruction of the Syrian arsenal
as part of an international accord brokered by Russia and the
United States after poison gas attacks on the outskirts of
Damascus killed hundreds, including children, in August.
Chemical weapons were likely used in five out of seven
attacks investigated by U.N. experts in Syria, where a near
three-year year civil war has killed more than 100,000 people.
The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each
other of using chemical weapons, and both have denied it.
Once the Danish ship has loaded all the primary agents, it
will take them to the port of Gioia Tauro in southern Italy,
where they will be transferred to a U.S. ship and later
destroyed at sea.
Transporting the chemicals through a civil war is "quite
challenging," Uzumcu said, renewing an appeal to groups that
oppose Syrian President Bashar al Assad's rule to cooperate.
"The biggest area of concern is clearly the safe
transportation of those weapons, chemical substances, from the
sites in Syria to the port of Latakia," he said.
Syrian authorities say opposition groups attacked two
chemical storage sites more than a week ago, Uzumcu said, adding
this had not been independently verified and there was "no
evidence" that chemical agents had fallen into the hands of
Uzumcu said he met a Syrian delegation on Wednesday at The
Hague to try to address security concerns.
"Some additional measures are being taken right now to
reduce risks. We hope that we can move relatively quickly in the
coming weeks," he said.
Uzumcu is in Italy to address parliament about the transfer
of the primary agents.
The U.S. ship MV Cape Ray, which has been specially equipped
to destroy the nerve agents, is likely to be in the
Mediterranean Sea by the end of January, Uzumcu said. The
chemical transfer should take no more than 48 hours, he added.
As the international coordination to rid Syria of its
arsenal continues, two sources familiar with the matter told
Reuters on Thursday that Britain would award a contract to
destroy around 150 tonnes of chemicals to French firm Veolia
The chemicals will be processed at the firm's incineration
plant at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, England, the sources said.