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October 16, 2013

Dutch Diplomat Tapped to Lead Syria Weapons Destruction

by Margaret Besheer

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has named Dutch diplomat Sigrid Kaag to head up the mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program. The U.N. chief also says he is intensifying efforts to see that the Geneva II peace talks are held in mid-November. 

Ban made a surprise appearance at the regular U.N. press briefing Wednesday to introduce Kaag as his choice to coordinate the joint U.N.-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission to rid Syria of its chemical arsenal.

He said Kaag, who has 20 years of diplomatic and U.N. experience, would report directly to him and the director general of The Hague-based OPCW.

“Her role includes ensuring access and security for the OPCW inspectors, as well as logistical, communications, medical, administrative and policy support, areas where the United Nations is uniquely capable of contributing,” Ban said.

Kaag will be based in Cyprus, where the mission will have its staging area and support base.

The secretary-general said the new special coordinator will also have to manage the provision of international assistance to complete the elimination of the Syria’s chemical weapons program.

“We have no illusions on the challenges ahead," Ban said. "The situation in Syria remains dangerous and unpredictable. The cooperation of all parties in Syria is required.”

Kaag, 52, who has served as an assistant secretary-general in the U.N. Development Program since 2010, has extensive experience in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.

"I am deeply honored, and I am most humbled, to be entrusted with this very complex and challenging assignment,” Kaag said in brief remarks to the press.

She said she would travel to The Hague on Friday to consult with the director general of the OPCW.

Ban made clear that while the United Nations has been dealing with Syria’s chemical weapons program, it has not stopped vigorously pursuing a political solution to the crisis, which has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions more.

He said he and his advisors are intensifying efforts to hold the Geneva II peace conference in mid-November.