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State Department excuses Syria's failure to comply with chemical weapons deadline

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Joel Gehrke,Syria,State Department,Chemical Weapons,Bashar Assad

Syria's failure to meet "a Dec. 31 deadline for the removal of part of its chemical weapons arsenal" drew a benign reaction from President Obama's team at the State Department, which excused dictator Bashar Assad's tardiness.

"We always knew this was going to be a complicated process," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters during Monday's briefing. "What we've always said is that these are target dates, or milestones, as you said, and as long as we see forward progress, that's what's most important here. And we have. I think it's important to note some of the things that we've done."

As for the delay itself, Harf cited logistical difficulties. "I would note that the OPCW and the U.N. Joint Mission cited security and weather concerns as the reason for the delay," she said.

"The OPCW confirmed the functional disablement of all Syria's declared production, mixing, and filling equipment, which basically means they can't take the chemicals they have and weaponize them, right?" Harf said while describing progress. "If you think, just six months ago they didn't even admit they had chemical weapons, and now we've basically made it so they can't weaponize any chemicals they have. I'd say that was progress. So we'll keep working on this and moving forward with it."

It's odd to hear Harf say that Syria has disabled their "declared" chemical stockpiles, given her emphasis that just 6 months ago the regime was lying about its chemical weapons (that is, claiming not to have any). How does the United States know that Assad isn't declaring all of his weapons, rather than keeping some in reserve?

"We have reached a shared assessment of the amount and type of chemical weapons possessed by the Assad regime, and we are committed to the rapid assumption of control by the international community of those weapons," Secretary of State John Kerry said after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Sept. 14.

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