AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday called for closer monitoring of the long-delayed destruction of a dozen chemical weapons production facilities in Syria, which is several months behind schedule.
Damascus has handed over 1,300 metric tonnes of toxic chemicals but not yet destroyed a series of underground bunkers and hangars used to produce and store its deadly stockpile.
Syria joined the chemical weapons convention last year after a sarin gas attack on Aug. 21 killed hundreds of civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel forces blamed each other for the strike.
It is “disappointing that the destruction of the twelve chemical weapons production facilities originally declared by Syria is limping along and is now significantly behind schedule,” said Bob Mikulak, the U.S. representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
“More monitoring is clearly needed,” he said.
Under the treaty, Syria must entirely abandon its chemical weapons program.
The delay in destroying the sites was partly caused by trouble in finding a commercial contractor to carry out the work, diplomatic sources told Reuters.
A company initially contracted was dropped after it was found to have ties to Assad’s government. Damascus had also sought to tax the work, which is being funded by the international community, angering some governments.
A new company has been contracted and the details of the destruction plan are being worked out with OPCW experts, the diplomats said.
Mikulak said destroying the sites is “a key element in building confidence that the Syrian chemical weapons program has
been completely eliminated.”
Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Tom Heneghan