Assad Missing Syria Chemical Weapons Deadline

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has failed to meet Wednesday's deadline for turning over most of his chemical weapons under a deal brokered by the United States and Russia.

As of Wednesday, Syria has turned over to international inspectors less than five percent of its chemical weapons, missing another deadline in its agreement to give up those stockpiles under threat of U.S. military action.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said Damascus is not doing everything it can to meet that timetable. And that is unacceptable, according to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Bashar al-Assad is not, in our judgment, fully in compliance because of the timing and the delays that have taken place contrary to the OPCW's judgment that this could move faster. So the options are all the options that originally existed. No option has been taken off the table," said Kerry.

The agreement followed last August's chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds. A United Nations investigation concluded that at least two of the rockets carrying deadly Sarin gas were fired from areas controlled by government forces.

President Assad denied responsibility for the attack, but agreed in September to hand over his chemical weapons in a deal that ultimately elevated his standing, said U.S. Institute of Peace analyst Steve Heydemann.

"I think it has transformed him from a pariah, a person that President Obama said had to go, described as illegitimate, into someone whose cooperation we depend on for implementation of this chemical weapons deal," said Heydemann.

More than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, and the use of chemical weapons has only strengthened President Assad, said former U.S. ambassador Adam Ereli.

"He has not had to pay a price for that. So frankly in the eyes of the Syrian people and his supporters, that's what got him more stature than any deal. They used them. They killed Syrians. And they didn't suffer any consequences. That's where the stature is," said Ereli.

Ereli also said that President Assad's stature was further enhanced by President Obama backing off his threat to strike Syria militarily over chemical weapons. However, this may have helped President Obama with Assad ally Iran, thinks American University professor Hillary Mann Leverett.

"For many Americans that's a bad thing. It shows us as weak. But for the Iranians it doesn't. It actually shows that maybe the Americans can do diplomacy. Maybe there can be conflict resolution. And so they're jumping at that opportunity," said Leverett.

Heydeman pointed out that ending the Syrian violence will not depend on the chemical weapons deal.

"I think it is a significant mistake if we view the success of this chemical weapons deal as somehow signaling a starting point or an opportunity to address some of the broader conflict dynamics that are really driving the violence in Syria. What we've seen is absolutely no diminution in the killing," said Heydemann.

U.S. officials have said they do not yet view Syria's chemical weapons delay as a formal violation of the agreement. Russian officials said they expect the Assad government to complete the handover of those weapons by the end of March.

VOA News / Feb. 06, 2014 08:10 KST