Syrian fighting, winter weather delays move of chemicals after deadline

Under a UN-backed U.S. and Russian agreement, the Syrian government has begun to dismantle its chemical weapons equipment and structures in order to meet a mid-2014 timeframe. But now the nation has missed a key deadline in moving the dangerous chemicals. Hari Sreenivasan reports on what caused the delay.


Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Syria today, at least 10 people were killed when a missile was fired into a bus in a rebel-held area in the city of Aleppo.

Meanwhile, the country's government missed a key international deadline, pushing back the destruction of some of its deadliest weapons materials. So far, the Syrian government has dismantled chemical weapons equipment and structures under a U.S.-Russian agreement approved by the United Nations.

The regime also had until year's end to remove precursors to sarin and other nerve gases from its borders. But the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, overseeing the operation, says winter weather and fighting across Syria delayed moving the chemicals.

SIGRID KAAG, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: Security, I think, all parties agree that this is, of course, a big concern always. But it also impacts the safety of any convoy and the safety of any effort. So, you need to plan to make everything as secure and safe as possible for the civilian population, for those who need to conduct the operation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The original plan was to have the chemicals destroyed on land outside of Syria. However, a number of countries refused to participate, including Albania, where there were street protests over the prospect. The latest plan calls for Russian armored vehicles to deliver the chemicals from 12 storage sites across Syria to the coastal city of Latakia.

Danish and Norwegian ships will then transport the material under naval escort to a port in Italy that has not been made public. There, the bulk chemicals will be transferred to a U.S. Naval vessel and then taken to an undisclosed location at sea to be destroyed.

For now, Danish and Norwegian task forces continue training at Cyprus to make sure nothing goes wrong.

MAN: For instance, a container slipping over and some spill has occurred and some contamination has occurred, should the need be, we can go on board the merchant vessels. We can take out the persons which might be contaminated, and we can clean them, we can stabilize them and we can evacuate them to a hospital.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There's no word on exactly when the chemical agents will be shipped, but Syria has until the end of June to complete the destruction of its chemical arsenal and everything tied to it.