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U.S. accuses Syria of stalling on WMDs

| Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 5:51 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
A man guides two Syrian women as they leave a building damaged by an alleged air strike by Syrian government forces on Thursday in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

The Obama administration said on Thursday that only 4 percent of Syria's most dangerous chemical weapons had been removed from the country and accused President Bashar Assad of dragging his feet on complying with the international agreement to eliminate the arsenal.

Those responsible for overseeing the destruction met in The Hague to review what diplomats called major delays and obstruction by the Syrian government as the eradication project ramped up this month.

“The effort to remove chemical agents and key precursor chemicals from Syria has seriously languished and stalled,” Robert P. Mikulak, the U.S. representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told the body.

Mikulak rejected Syria's explanation that the delay is because of security concerns in the areas through which chemical stores would be transported. Syria has demanded additional equipment to protect the shipments from rebel attack.

“These demands are without merit and display a ‘bargaining mentality' rather than a security mentality,” Mikulak said.

The White House said Assad must speed up chemical weapons shipments from inside the country to the port city of Latakia as agreed under a landmark deal to secure and destroy one of the world's largest stores of lethal chemical agents.

“It is the Assad regime's responsibility to transport those chemicals to facilitate removal. We expect them to meet their obligation to do so,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One.

The slow Syrian compliance in January occurred as the separate United Nations effort to convene peace talks between the Assad government and political opponents hit snags. The tandem efforts are the pillars of U.S. policy toward Syria nearly three years into a civil war that has killed well more than 100,000 people and displaced millions.

The Assad government and opposition figures sat down with a U.N. mediator this week but have made no real progress. Even a deal that was largely pre-arranged to get more food and other aid to besieged areas of Syria has not emerged from the brief talks. That agreement was supposed to build confidence between negotiators, who might then be able to begin to form a power-sharing government.

The talks in Geneva will run through Friday and are to reconvene in February.

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