I had a Twitter conversation with Laura Rozen (@lrozen) and Jim White (@JimWhite) earlier this week about the delay in moving the Syrian chemical agents out of Syria. Reuters relied, as it too often does, on anonymous “diplomats from a Western country” for dour words about Assad dragging his feet and that the deadlines might not be met. Jim has replied with a post blaming the US for not having the MV Cape Ray ready in time.

I think the situation is other than that. It is possible that Assad is dragging his feet. Although it is difficult to remove chemical agents during a war situation, Assad has some (far from total) control over the fighting.

What seems to be coming out of the Geneva talks, as well, is that Russia has have limited influence over Assad. This could be an elaborate ballet between the two to confuse the rest of the world and keep Assad in power, although Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments on that subject imply a genuine frustration with his relations with Assad. Russia has strong reasons to want Syria’s chemical weapons to be secured and removed from Syria.

Jim makes a good point that the BBC has reported that the chemical agents were gathered into “marshalling areas” in December. Reuters seems to be correct that only approximately 5% of Syria’s chemical arsenal has been transferred to the waiting ships.

It is also true that the outfitting of the USMV Cape Ray has taken longer than was projected. But this is irrelevant to how expeditiously the chemical agents are being moved in Syria.

The interactions of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons with member states are confidential. Obviously, Syria is asking for a fair degree of confidentiality in this operation. That allows anonymous diplomats to say whatever benefits them.

Russia and the United States have had multiple extensions of their deadlines for destroying chemical weapons. It’s a difficult operation. In a war zone, it’s worse. It’s not a bad idea to focus some attention on what Assad may or may not be doing, but there is no need for concern yet.

Update: Ahmet Uzumcu, Director-General of the OPCW, has called for “the process to pick up pace.” He specified no blame on any party.

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