The first shipments of Syrian chemical weapons are finally on their way out of the country. According to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, “priority chemical materials” were transported to the port of Latakia and onto a Danish vessel that set sail towards international waters. Security for the weapons removal is being provided by Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Russian ships.
Under a deal proposed by Russia and agreed to by the United States, Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by June of this year. However, the internationally backed disarmament program has been delayed again and again. A December 31 deadline for the removal of the most deadly toxins was missed because of a combination of factors, including the war, bad weather, bureaucracy and technical issues.
The percentage of Syria’s toxic arsenal that had been removed was not disclosed, but the OPCW did say that nine containers of the most dangerous chemical materials had been placed upon the cargo vessel. A statement from the OPCW said, “The vessel has been accompanied by naval escorts provided by Denmark and Norway, as well as the Syrian Arab Republic. It will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port.”
The agreement was made after a sarin gas attack occurred in the country on August 21 of last year. Western nations blamed the attack on President Bashar al-Assad and the forces loyal to him. Supporters of the president blamed the rebels for the attack. Since the war started nearly three years ago, thousands of people have died in the conflict and hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes.
Washington welcomed the removal of the chemical materials. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki commented, “Much more needs to be done,” but added, “We have no reason to believe that the regime has gone back on any aspect of their promise.” Syria’s Western-backed opposition must still decide whether to attend talks with Assad’s government aimed at ending the conflict, scheduled for January 22 in Switzerland.