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Today we are one month past the 31 December completion date set by the Council. Almost none of the Priority One chemicals have been removed, and the Syrian government will not commit to a specific schedule for removal. This situation will soon be compounded by Syria's failure to meet the February 5th completion date set by this Council for the removal of all Priority Two chemicals. Syria has said that its delay in transporting these chemicals has been caused by "security concerns" and insisted on additional equipment – armored jackets for shipping containers, electronic countermeasures, and detectors for improvised explosive devices. These demands are without merit, and display a "bargaining mentality" rather than a security mentality.
The Joint Mission and the OPCW Technical Secretariat have rightly concluded that the additional equipment demanded by Syria is not needed for the safe transport of the chemicals to Latakia. And let us not forget that that these chemicals have often been moved during the ongoing conflict without such equipment, demonstrating that Syria has been able to ensure sufficient protection to date with its current capabilities, and without this additional "wish list" of equipment. As Secretary-General Ban said recently, "...the Syrian Arab Republic has sufficient material and equipment necessary to carry out multiple ground movements to ensure the expeditious removal of chemical weapons material." Secretary-General Ban added that "...it is imperative that the Syrian Arab Republic now examines the situation, intensifies its efforts to expedite in-country movements of chemical weapons material, and continues to meet its obligations." under UN Security Council Resolution 2118 and the OPCW Executive Council decisions.
Syria's requests for equipment and open-ended delaying of the removal operation could ultimately jeopardize the carefully timed and coordinated multi-state removal and destruction effort. For our part, the international community is ready to go, and the international operation to remove the chemicals is fully in place and ready to proceed once Syria fulfills its obligation to transport the chemicals to Latakia. On Monday, the U.S. ship Cape Ray set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, and will be in the Mediterranean shortly. The delay by Syria is increasing the costs to nations that have made donations for shipping, escort, and other services related to the removal effort.
The United States is deeply concerned about the failure of the Government of Syria to transport to Latakia all of the chemical agent and precursors as mandated by OPCW Executive Council decisions.
How will the chemicals be destroyed?
Some priority chemicals will be destroyed through a two-step process. The first step, hydrolysis, will occur at sea on board the MV Cape Ray. The chemicals will not be dumped or buried in the sea at any stage; there will be no release of chemicals into the environment. The US Department of Defense has installed two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems on board the MV Cape Ray. The FDHS has been designed on the basis of technology that has been safely used over many years in the US chemical weapons destruction programme to hydrolyse chemical warfare agents. The FDHS uses water, sodium hydroxide (NaOH), sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) and heat to hydrolyse the chemicals with 99.9 percent effectiveness. The effluent resulting from the hydrolysis process will be safely stored on board the MV Cape Ray.
Will any chemicals be dumped in the sea?
During the entire removal and destruction process, no chemicals will be dumped in the sea. Destruction of the chemicals at sea will be in full accordance with international laws, including applicable requirements prohibiting the dumping or other discharge of pollutants into ocean waters. In addition, the dumping of chemical weapons in any body of water is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. Part IV(A), para 13 of the Convention’s Verification Annex prohibits “dumping in any body of water, land burial or open pit burning”.
Furthermore, paragraph 10 of Article IV states that “Each State Party, during transportation, sampling, storage and destruction of chemical weapons, shall assign the highest priority to ensuring the safety of people and to protecting the environment. Each State Party shall transport, sample, store and destroy chemical weapons in accordance with its national standards for safety and emissions.” Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we will have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions. American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated.
Opposing sides in Syria's civil war stood together to observe a minute of silence on Thursday in honor of the tens of thousands killed in the three-year conflict, a rare symbol of harmony a week into peace talks that have so far yielded no compromise.
The first talks between President Bashar al-Assad's government and his foes have been mired in rhetoric since they began last Friday. The two sides took a first tentative step forward on Wednesday by agreeing to use the same 2012 roadmap as the basis of discussions to end the civil war, although they disagreed about how talks should proceed.
U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday he does not expect to achieve anything substantive in the first round which ends on Friday, but hopes for more progress in a second round starting about a week later.
Opposition delegate Ahmad Jakal said his delegation's head, Hadi al-Bahra, proposed the minute of silence and all sides stood up, including Assad's delegation and Brahimi's team.
"All stood up for the souls of the martyrs. Symbolically it was good," Jakal told Reuters.
Lawmakers from both parties criticized President Obama’s minimal comments on the violence in Syria in his State of the Union address, while reaction to the president’s praise for the Iran interim nuclear deal fell more along party lines.
“The president really was disconnected from the serious dangers in the Mideast,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, calling the interim nuclear deal with Iran “terrible.”
Graham said he was “shocked” that Obama didn’t devote more of his speech to Syria, which he called a “contagion” that would destabilize the region.
Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, said, “I’ve been pretty blunt with regard to the administration in the respect that they need to very clearly spell out what our strategy is going to be going forward” in Syria.
“They’ve got to do a much better job, even if they have a strategy, that they can clearly articulate that they’ve got to be able to communicate that,” Casey said.
Good Evening, just wanted to give our friends in Syria a summary about the latest updates on Geneva.
First, The international efforts are continuing in a bid to deliver humanitarian aid to the old city of Homs. We strongly condemn the Syrian regime’s refusal to let humanitarian aid in for weeks and months. In our opinion, this refusal is unjustified and it could constitute a war crime. But our efforts are continuing in coordination with the United Nations, Russia, and other international organizations. These discussions are of course taking place here in Geneva, and continue up until this moment.
The negotiation topics here in Geneva are not only on approving the convoys to deliver humanitarian aid to the besieged neighborhoods, it is actually on the full implementation of the Geneva communique. One of the important items of the Geneva communique is the release of the detainees and the allowance of humanitarian aid to all areas without exception, but the most important item is the establishment of a transitional governing body. Discussions on this last topic have just begun, and the regime has refused to engage in any serious discussions in this regard.
In our opinion, the invite sent by the UN Secretary General was very clear that the subject of the negotiations is the full implementation of the Geneva communique, including the establishment of a transitional governing body. So, the regime’s delegation has to accept to discuss this topic and to engage in a serious negotiation.
We commend the efforts exerted by the UN Representative Lakhdar Brahimi and hope that the Syrian regime will eventually work seriously with the international community and with the Opposition Coalition’s delegation to reach a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Thank You.
“The authorities think we’re building a machine for making chocolates,” Ahmad Heidar says with a laugh.
We had just arrived at a nondescript building in this town along the Syrian border. Inside, a pair of large mechanical arms rested on the concrete floor. These machines, however, have nothing to do with confectionary. In fact, they’re part of a robot that Heidar hopes will rescue sniper victims in the Syrian civil war.
Just a few miles away, that conflict continues to rage. Snipers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad often deliberately shoot to injure, rather than kill, their targets, Heidar says. The motive isn’t simple sadism (though that happens, too); it’s human bait. The tactic is cruel but effective: Shoot one person, wait for his friends to come to the rescue, then kill the whole group.
During the early days of the uprising, Heidar watched this scenario play out in his hometown of Aleppo. Many fighters and civilians died trying to use ropes, poles and a variety of makeshift tools to save their injured countrymen.
Shocked at the cruelty of the regime, Heidar, a former teacher, decided roughly a year and a half ago to use his expertise in electronics and computer programming to design a way to safely rescue people from snipers. Working with a childhood friend who asked to be known only as Belal, he thought up a solution: a remote-controlled robot. Heidar named the robot Tena, after a Finnish woman he once sat next to on a plane and “fell in love with for an hour,” he says.
As Secretary Kerry underscored in his remarks in Montreux, we continue to press all parties to take concrete steps to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground which may also improve the environment for the talks. The areas are: (a) providing access for humanitarian aid to reach besieged communities (b) prisoner releases and exchanges, and (c) localized ceasefires. These discussions with the UN, Russia, and the regime and opposition are ongoing.
The Syrian regime is responsible for facilitating access to reach the 9.3 million people in desperate need of humanitarian aid in Syria, and could easily increase that access by approving convoy requests and streamlining procedures to enable humanitarian workers to do their jobs. For example, the UN has trucks stocked with 500 tons of food and relief supplies ready to enter northeastern Syria to reach desperate families in Hasakeh and Deir az-Zor as soon as the regime gives its approval. This assistance could save many lives, and it is just one of many steps the international community is ready and willing to make to get vital humanitarian aid to suffering people. It is up to the regime to say yes.
The UN, ICRC, NGOs, and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent risk their lives on a daily basis to deliver aid to those in need, but have been stymied at every step by the recalcitrance of this regime. In the meantime, the regime has engaged in a public relations effort of late to portray itself as taking steps to provide humanitarian access. As of now, we have not seen any significant steps by the regime to provide access to besieged areas and facilitate the delivery of even a small amount of relief to those suffering. If anything, the regime is further harming the negotiating environment through its continued denial of food, water, and medical aid to the Syrian people.
Innocent women, children, and men are dying in Syria on a daily basis from preventable diseases and malnutrition-related causes. It is unconscionable that the regime would block the work of humanitarian agencies that are ready and able to save those lives.
We want to take this opportunity to clarify what humanitarian agencies would consider progress in these areas versus what is simply just a façade by the regime:
· Demanding opposition forces leave an area or put down their weapons before allowing the delivery of food and other much needed humanitarian assistance does not constitute an acceptable offer of humanitarian access. We’ve seen the regime do this before, as part of its despicable “kneel or starve” campaign. Residents of besieged communities cannot be forced to submit to regime control in order to receive humanitarian assistance.
· Progress on humanitarian access must be decoupled from discussions over a ceasefire. Civilians who are in need of food and other humanitarian assistance cannot wait until a ceasefire is worked out – which is a complicated and complex process. These civilians need humanitarian assistance now, while negotiations on ceasefires are ongoing.
· Humanitarian agencies need to be able to determine the safest routes to reach the intended destinations. We have seen the regime claim a willingness to get assistance into Yarmouk while forcing the UN to take a more dangerous route to reach the camp, thereby ensuring the failure of the convoy.
· Negotiations for a ceasefire must involve simultaneous actions by both parties.
For these and other reasons, it is clear: Any claims that the regime is improving the atmosphere have no basis in fact and are preposterous.
The regime has in its hands the ability to improve the environment for the conference as the best chance to end the civil war. It needs to do so now.
The United States will bring our full diplomatic weight to bear influence to make progress on humanitarian access. We call on the regime and the international community to do the same. In this context, Russia has an important role to play in holding the Syrian regime accountable to its obligation to facilitate humanitarian access and alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.
If the regime is serious about making progress on humanitarian access, then it must:
· Immediately approve the full list of proposed convoy movements requested by the UN to the Old City of Homs, Mouadhamiyah, Douma, Yarmouk, Mliha, and Barzeh.
· Engage in serious discussions to pursue a humanitarian pause in certain areas.
· Remove the requirement for 72 hours advance notice for convoy movements, which only further delays the delivery of urgently needed aid.
· Allow humanitarian agencies to determine the safest routes to reach their intended destinations.