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U.S. accuses Syria of stonewalling on chemical arms plants

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks during a Security Council meeting on the crisis in Ukraine, at the U.N. headquar
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks during a Security Council meeting on the crisis in Ukraine, at the U.N. headquar

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syria is stonewalling members of the global chemical weapons watchdog and refusing to seriously negotiate on the destruction of its facilities used to produce poison gas, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations said on Wednesday.

The sharp criticism of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad came after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague said Syria has shipped about a third of its chemical weapons stockpile, including mustard gas, for destruction abroad.

"OPCW trying to reach agreement to destroy CW production facilities—#Syria refusing to seriously negotiate & is (about) to miss another deadline," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Powers said on her Twitter feed.

Last year Syria had asked the OPCW for permission to convert for peaceful use some of the facilities declared under its weapons program, but Western diplomats said they were loath to accept such a plan as it could leave Syria with a residual chemical weapons capability.

"#Syria must accelerate process to comply with @OPCW deadlines—only 20% of priority 1 chemicals removed so far. Delays are dangerous," Power said. Priority 1 chemicals are the deadliest precursors for poison gas.

Syria's U.N. envoy Bashar Ja'afari to did not respond to a request for comment. The State Department announced on Wednesday that Ja'afari will from now on be confined to a 25-mile radius from central New York City.

Power's Tweets followed a briefing that Sigrid Kaag, the head of the joint OPCW/U.N. mission overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal, gave to U.N. Security Council members behind closed doors on progress on eliminating Syria's poison gas stocks.

Kaag spoke to reporters after her briefing. She was more upbeat than Power in her assessment, saying that continued cooperation by the Syrian government "has been assured by the authorities at the highest level."

Assad agreed to destroy his chemical weapons following global outrage over a sarin gas attack in August that killed over 1,000 people, many of them children. The world's deadliest chemical attack in 25 years, it drew a U.S. threat of military strikes that was averted after Assad pledged to give up his chemical arms.

Kaag declined to comment on a U.N. human rights investigators' report that said chemical weapons used in two incidents in Syria last year appear to have come from the stockpiles of the Syrian military.

The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of using chemical weapons, banned under international law, and both have denied it. More than 130,000 people have been killed in Syria's three-year-old civil war.

The head of a U.N. chemical weapons investigation team, Ake Sellstrom of Sweden, said in January that Syrian authorities who blamed the opposition for the August sarin attack have failed to present a plausible theory for how the rebels could have obtained the nerve agent.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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