Ahmet Üzümcü, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, announced the last of Syria's declared chemical weapons had been turned over. (Mahmud Turkia / AFP)
ISTANBUL — The last consignment of declared chemical weapons has been handed over by the Syrian government on Monday, according to Ahmet Üzümcü, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) director-general.
A major landmark in this mission has been reached today. The last of the remaining chemicals identified for removal from Syria were loaded this afternoon aboard the Danish ship Ark Futura. The ship made its last call at the port of Latakia in what has been a long and patient campaign in support of this international endeavor, he said.
The OPCW has been mandated since September to inspect, remove and dispose of Syrias arsenal of chemical weapons and chemical weapons production facilities after a deal was brokered by the United States and Russia to avert military action against Bashar Al Assads regime for the illegal use of the weapons.
The next stage in this mission is the completion of the maritime operations to deliver the chemicals for destruction at the assigned facility on board the US vessel Cape Ray and at commercial facilities in Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, Üzümcü added.
The MV Cape Ray, a 648-foot container ship, has been outfitted by the US Army with two Field Deployable Hydrosis Systems designed to neutralize chemical weapons.
The Cape Ray is expected to receive the shipment from the Ark Futura at the Italian Port of Gioia Tauro in Calabria.
The mission to eliminate Syrias chemical weapons program has been a major undertaking marked by an extraordinary international cooperation. Never before has an entire arsenal of a category of weapons of mass destruction been removed from a country experiencing a state of internal armed conflict. And this has been accomplished within very demanding and tight timeframes, he said.
According to Üzümcü, more than 30 countries and the European Union have committed significant financial assistance covering logistical and transportation requirements, including a complex maritime operation.
Despite the receipt of the final declared weapons, chemical and biological weapons nonproliferation expert Amy Smithson warns that in previous cases, regimes usually declared only a part of their arsenal.
In Libya, Gadhafi did not declare large stockpiles which were later discovered by the transitional government; the same case also applies to Iraq so therefore we cannot rule out the possibility of Syria still having some chemical weapons capability, Smithson said.
However, the number of facilities and weapons the OPCW have been given access to are close to the estimates provided before the mandate began, according to Peter Sawczak, from the OPCW government relations and political affairs branch.
The declared numbers possessed by the Syrian government were quite close to the estimates we have obtained from member states, he said.
Although there were delays in the process, Üzümcü said, the cooperation of the Syrian Arab Republic has been commensurate with the requirements of the decisions.
Üzümcü added that the OPCWs work in Syria will continue.
We hope to conclude soon the clarification of certain aspects of the Syrian declaration and commence the destruction of certain structures that were used as chemical weapons production facilities, he said. ■