UN tells Syria to hurry on chem. weapons disposal

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council called Thursday on Syria to speed up the removal of its most harmful chemical weapons agents from the country after it missed several deadlines.

The Syrian government missed a Dec. 31 deadline to remove the most dangerous chemicals in its stockpile from the war-torn country and Wednesday's deadline to give up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons. The Assad regime has cited security concerns and the lack of some equipment but says it remains fully committed to the process.

A council statement issued Thursday after a briefing by Sigrid Kaag, head of the mission charged with destroying Syria's chemical weapons, called on Syria "to expedite actions to meet its obligation to transport in a systematic and sufficiently accelerated manner all relevant chemicals" to the port of Latakia for removal.

The council noted that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the joint U.N.-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons mission overseeing the destruction of Syria's stockpile have said the government "has sufficient material and equipment to carry out multiple ground movements to ensure the expeditious removal of chemical weapons."

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power accused the Syrian government of "foot-dragging" and demanded that President Bashar Assad's government establish a plan to quickly move the chemical weapons and their precursors out of the country.

By delaying, she said, the Assad regime is increasing the cost to nations involved in the removal and is "also encouraging heightened risks that these weapons will be used again by regime elements or will fall into the hands of terrorists."

But Kaag told reporters she didn't think there had been deliberate stalling by Syria.

She said there is ongoing destruction of less harmful chemicals taking place in Syria and continuing preparations for the removal of more harmful agents.

"The message I think is clear that there is an expectation of pace, volume and predictability" in removing all chemical weapons agents from Syria, Kaag said.

Secretary-General Ban told a news conference at the Winter Olympics site in Sochi, Russia on Thursday that despite the delays he still believes a deadline of destroying Syria's entire chemical weapons program by June 30 "can be done with the support of the Syrian government."

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