US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a June 23 press conference at the US embassy in Baghdad. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
WASHINGTON — Global partners in a UN mission to rid Syria of chemical weapons declared their mission accomplished today, a full week before the June 30 deadline prescribed in a Russian-initiated deal.
“The total of declared chemical weapons materials destroyed or removed from Syria has reached 100 percent,” the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – UN Joint Mission announced June 23.
“The most operationally challenging task within the effort to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program has come to an end,” the international body reported.
It noted that with the exception of 12 production facilities still in dispute, all Syrian declared equipment and munitions, as well as buildings associated with its declared chemical weapon program, “had been eliminated in an unprecedented timeframe and under uniquely challenging conditions.”
China, Denmark, Norway, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States were active members of the joint task force, whose mission was mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 2118 that took effect last October.
The international body also credited Cyprus and Lebanon for facilitating and supporting the global effort.
At a June 23 press conference in Baghdad, US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated the joint mission and global partners operating under “very dangerous conditions to remove more than 1,000 tons of declared chemical weapon materials from Syria.”
He noted, however, that “serious issues that remain to be addressed, and we are not going to stop” until those issues are resolved.
Kerry was referring to undeclared capabilities retained by Damascus and reports of systematic use of chlorine gas in opposition areas.
“I want to emphasize: Chlorine gas — chlorine is not among the required declared chemical precursors, but when mixed in a certain way and when used in warfare, it becomes one of those prohibited entities under the chemical weapons treaty. So while all of the chemical weapons as declared weapons are removed, we still need to deal with this issue.”
Additionally, Kerry accused the Syrian regime of “dragging its feet on the destruction of some of production facilities.”
Referring to Syrian use of chemical weapons against its own people last August — acts which prompted US President Barack Obama to seek congressional approval to use force against Damascus — Kerry said:
“The world will really never forget the loss of more than 1,000 innocent Syrians who were senselessly killed with chemical weapons on the early morning of August 21st, 2013.”
He added, “It’s very important, however, even as we mark this moment of removing 100 percent of the declared weapons, that we understand that our work is not finished to ensure the complete elimination of Syria’s CW program.”
Kerry said he discussed the chemical weapon removal in a June 22 conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who praised the commitment of the international community to dismantle Syria’s illicit program.
“For 100 years, the international community has deemed the use of these weapons to be beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct. And in the coming weeks, the United States stands ready to begin the destruction, which will be our responsibility, of a larger amount of Syria’s chemical weapons precursors. This is an unprecedented mission, and it will ensure that the weapons removed will never again be used against the Syrian people or against us, our allies, or our partners in the region or beyond,” Kerry said.