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January 31, 2014

US: Assad Must Meet Chemical Weapons Deadline

by Scott Stearns

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Syria is not meeting international obligations to destroy its chemical weapons under a deal brokered by the United States and Russia. Kerry is meeting foreign and defense ministers at a security conference in Munich.

A month past the deadline to remove Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons, Kerry says the United States is deeply concerned by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's failure to meet the timetable. Assad agreed to the schedule with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW.

"Bashar al-Assad is not, in our judgment, fully in compliance because of the timing and the delays that have taken place contrary to the OPCW's judgment that this could move faster," he said.

Kerry spoke to reporters alongside German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Steinmeir said Syrian delay risks Russia's standing on this issue as well.

"They're not only toying with their own credibility," he said. "But after the first talks with the Americans, the Russian side was also in on this. So they are also toying with the credibility of the Russian side."

Syria's government says security and logistical obstacles have slowed the collection and transportation of its chemical weapons. Kerry says he will continue to press his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to keep this plan on track.

"Russia is a partner in this effort. And Russia obviously plays a critical role in helping the Syrians to understand their obligation of compliance," he said.

The deal helped President Assad avoid U.S. President Barack Obama's threat of military action to prevent continued use of chemical weapons in Syria. Kerry says all options remain on the table if Syria continues to delay moving all chemical agents and related compounds to the port of Latakia.

"Every indication we have is there is no legitimate reason that that is not happening now," he said. "And therefore we call on Bashar al-Assad to live up to his obligations. Or we will join together with our friends and talk about which if any of the options we deem necessary at this point to proceed forward."

The United States says less than five percent of those chemical agents have been brought to the port, from which they can be taken to a U.S. Navy ship to be neutralized. Steinmeier said that once it's made safe, two-thirds of the material will then be destroyed in Germany.