The Syrian government missed a Tuesday deadline for moving its most deadly chemical weapons components out of the country, with international monitors attributing the delay to unspecified security concerns and bad weather.
Under an internationally brokered deal announced earlier in 2013, Damascus was to have shipped its most lethal chemicals - including about 20 tons of mustard nerve agent - out of the Mediterranean port of Latakia by December 31. The toxins are slated for destruction at sea, with a mid-2014 deadline looming for the removal of the entire Syrian chemical arsenal.
The international monitoring group overseeing the transfers did not elaborate on the delay. But Reuters news agency quotes the chief of the United Nations-led oversight group as saying the delay appears minimal "and that the work is about to be completed."
For its part, the U.S. State Department characterized the December 31 deadline as "ambitious," and said it is satisfied to see "forward progress" on the transfers.
A spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is jointly monitoring the chemical transfers with the United Nations, told VOA he also remains optimistic about the shipments, despite the delay. He also noted that Syria no longer has any capacity to manufacture or use chemical weapons.
Earlier in December, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regained control of the Damascus-to-Latakia highway that will carry the toxins. Opposition forces were ousted from several towns along the road, but analysts say convoys still remain vulnerable to attack.