Syria chemical weapons: Kerry asks Russia to hasten removal

Norwegian frigate Helge Ingstad in Latakia Norway and Denmark are providing transport to take the weapons from the port of Latakia

US Secretary of State John Kerry has asked Russia to press its ally Syria into speeding up the removal of chemical weapons.

The US says only about 4% of chemical weapons declared by the Syrian government have so far been removed.

Mr Kerry raised the issue with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, officials said.

Syria's chemical weapons are due to be removed and destroyed by 30 June.

Under the terms of the UN-backed plan, Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons to the Mediterranean port of Latakia.

The first consignment of 16 tonnes, from two Syrian sites, left Latakia on 7 January.

A further shipment left on 27 January, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

"Secretary Kerry pressed Foreign Minister Lavrov to push the regime for more progress on moving the remaining chemical weapons within Syria to the port in Latakia," the US State Department official said.

Washington considered progress so far to be "unacceptable", the official added.

The OPCW, which is overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal, has been meeting in The Hague to discuss the operation's progress.

US Secretary of State John Kerry (file image) John Kerry met his Russian counterpart at the Munich Security Conference

Earlier this week, the US ambassador to the OPCW, Robert Mikulak, said "the effort to remove chemical agent and key precursor chemicals from Syria has seriously languished and stalled".

"The spotlight now is on Syria to proceed without further delay to comply with its obligations and make this effort a success," he added.

Denmark and Norway are providing cargo ships and military escorts to take them to Italy, where they will be loaded onto a US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray.

The materials will be destroyed in international waters.

Correspondents say failure to eliminate the weapons could expose Syria to the threat of sanctions, although these would have to be supported in the UN Security Council by Russia and China which have so far refused to back such measures.

Map of the Mediterranean
  • 1. The Syrian authorities are responsible for packing and safely transporting the chemical weapons from 12 sites across the country to the port of Latakia. Russia has supplied large-capacity and armoured lorries, while the US has sent container drums and GPS locators.
  • 2. Russia is providing security for loading operations at Latakia, for which the US has supplied loading, transportation and decontamination equipment. China has sent 10 ambulances and surveillance cameras, and Finland an emergency response team in case of accidents.
  • 3. Denmark and Norway are providing cargo ships and military escorts to take the chemicals to the container port of Gioia Tauro in Italy. Russia and China are also providing naval escorts and the first consignment of 16 tonnes left Latakia on 7 January.
  • 4. In Italy, the "most critical" chemical agents will be loaded onto the US Maritime Administration cargo ship, MV Cape Ray, to be destroyed by hydrolysis in international waters. Less-toxic chemicals will be shipped by Norwegian and Danish vessels for disposal at commercial facilities.
Peace talks

Also in Munich, Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov met UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi to discuss the lack of progress in the Syria peace talks in Geneva.

The talks ended on Friday with rival Syrian delegations trading insults.

Mr Brahimi later told a panel on Syria at the conference: "We have failed somewhere.

"We can say it is an intractable problem, it is difficult. But somewhere there is a failure."

However, Mr Brahimi said he hoped the talks would resume in Geneva on 10 February in a "more constructive" mood.

The Munich Security Conference is an annual event held to discuss military and political affairs.

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