30 November 2013 - Press statement by Sigrid Kaag, Special Coordinator, OPCW-UN Joint Mission, Damascus
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Thank you all for coming together today.
I have had a very productive week here in Damascus and I am pleased to be able to talk to you before going to the Hague and then New York, where I will be briefing the OPCW Conference of State Parties and the UN Security Council about the work of the Joint Mission.
I have had constructive meetings with the Syrian Government at the most senior levels. To date, the Government of Syria has fully cooperated in facilitating the work of the OPCW-UN Joint Mission. We will continue to build on this constructive cooperation, because we have one shared goal, which is ridding Syria of chemical weapons and eliminating the horror and risk that they pose on the Syrian people.
The Joint Mission shall continue to provide all necessary assistance to oversee and verify the timely elimination of the chemical weapons programme in a safe and secure manner. However, the destruction of the chemical weapons programme is first and foremost the responsibility of the Government of Syria and the success of the Mission will depend on the sustained commitment by Syrian authorities to fulfil their obligations under the CWC, EC Decisions and the UNSCR, and they have informed/assured me that they will do so.
As you know, We have made significant progress and the Syrian Arab Republic has met a number of important milestones:
On 23 October the Syrian Arab Republic submitted its initial declaration to OPCW detailing its plan for the destruction.
On 31 October, the Joint Mission confirmed that SAR had COMPLETED the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing and filling plants rendering them inoperable;
On 15 November OPCW approved SAR’s detailed Plan for the Elimination of Chemical Weapons Programme.
The Government has informed that it has completed destruction of all category 3 items, including unfilled warheads and bombs. The Joint Mission has been able to verify the destruction of 63% of all declared category 3 items. The Joint Mission inspectors have conducted visits to verify the irreversable destruction of Category 3 munitions at ALL RELEVANT sites in the Damascus area. Similar plans in place for sites in HOMS area when security conditions allow.
Government has also begun to destroy specialised and standard equipment belonging to production facilities, in addition to special features of building and standard buildings in the same locations. Verification activities in these sites will commence shortly.
A decision has already been taken that chemicals making up the Syrian chemical weapons programme, [mostly in the form of binary precursor chemicals] will be removed from Syria and destroyed outside its territory on a US ship outside Syrian territorial waters.
As preparations get underway for Phase III activities, the Joint Mission stands ready to support the Government in outlining steps the authorities would be required to take for the removal of selected material from the country for destruction outside.
Mission is also coordinating offers of assistance with respect to supporting the maritime transfer of chemical materials. Several member states have indicated their willingness to provide specialised cargo carriers. Member states have also offered maritime security escort.
Packaging and shipping material are currently underway for their onward transportation to Damascus. Syrian Personnel have been trained in packaging and handling procedures related to International Maritime Dangerous Goods transportation.
Yesterday, I visited Latakia, which is the port identified by SAR to handle the transfer of material out of the country.
The Mission is working to establish temporary forward operating base at the port to support the inspection and verification of chemical material.
I have written to all Member States detailing projected urgent requirements made by the Government for logistics and security support and the response has been very positive.
So far, 14 countries have contributed a total of 11.2 million Euros to the Trust Fund for OPCW’s verification activities in Syria. A separate Trust Fund for the destruction work to be conducted by private companies was established last week. An estimated at between 35 and 40 million Euros needed for this work.
The OPCW Executive Council Decision adopted on 15 November 2013 provides a clear plan for the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons programme in the safest and most secure manner possible. It also sets ambitious milestones to be met by the Government of Syria. This next phase will be the most challenging and its timely execution will require the existence of a secure environment for the verification and transport of chemical weapons.
Continuing and timely international support and assistance for this endeavour will remain crucial. I also wish to express my sincere appreciation for all the States who have supported this mission – through both financial and in-kind contributions.
On-going efforts to remove chemical weapons from Syria to locations elsewhere continues to pose challenges due to the security situation on the ground.
The security situation is volatile. On-going conflict, closed roads limit access and may significantly constrain planned operations.
United Nations Security Council resolution 2118 (2013) emphasized the importance of ensuring that the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons does not put the Syrian people and the environment at risk as well as ensuring the security of activities undertaken by the Joint Mission personnel.
All parties in Syria must cooperate fully in this regard. I have been personally assured by the Government of Syria of their continued commitment to the security of our personnel and activities in the country. I have also met with representative of the Syrian opposition in Istanbul and they also indicated their support for the safe transportation of convoys containing chemical material.
The resolve to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons in a secure manner reflects a collective commitment. Maximum efforts are being exerted by all stakeholders to ensure that all necessary arrangements are in place to facilitate implementation.
We have a challenging road ahead of us and sustained support from the international community remains essential. I look forward to meeting you again on my return to Damascus.