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Obama Admin “Deeply Concerned” as Syria Seen Stalling on Chemical Weapons Agreement

The Obama administration on Thursday explicitly accused the Bashar al-Assad regime of deliberately stalling on its obligations to turn over its chemical weapons arsenal, putting the White House at risk of both domestic political fallout.

Robert P. Mikulak, the U.S. ambassador to the international organization that is overseeing the collection and destruction of the Syrian arsenal, accused Damascus of missing deadlines and “open-ended delaying” of the surrender of hundreds of tons of lethal blister and nerve agents.

The program “has seriously languished and stalled,” Mikulak told the executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, which is coordinating the operation with the United Nations. The delays “could ultimately jeopardize the … removal and destruction effort.”

The President touted the chemical weapons agreement in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, and yesterday’s admission is already being treated by journalists as evidence that the section was misguided – and potentially reinforcing global perceptions of American fecklessness. The Washington Post quoted Robert P. Mikulak, the U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, assessing that “the effort to remove chemical agents and key precursor chemicals from Syria has seriously languished and stalled,” and dismissing Syrian requests for more equipment as pretexts for delays. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had separately declared this week that Damascus has turned over less than 5% of its chemical arsenal. The Obama administration has significant prestige at stake in the Syrian bargain. Washington had last fall suddenly called off airstrikes which seemed set to occur after Damascus violated President Barack Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons. Syria’s Russian allies seized on what appeared to be a gaffe by Secretary of State John Kerry to maneuver the administration into suspending the strikes in exchange for a deal under which Damascus would forfeit its chemical arsenal. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki assured reporters on Thursday that Washington was “deeply concerned” about the Syrian foot-dragging.

“We all know that the Syrian regime has the capability to move these weapons, since they have been moved multiple times in the conflict,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday, adding that the US was “deeply concerned” about the delay. “This isn’t rocket science here. They’re dragging their feet.”

[Photo: Freedom House / Flickr]