THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch diplomat leading an international mission to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons program said Tuesday the pace of removing chemicals from the civil war-torn country is picking up and an end-of-June deadline for total destruction of the program is still achievable.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Sigrid Kaag said Syria has agreed a 60-day timetable to accelerate and intensify efforts toward removal of the chemicals that will be destroyed outside the country.
"We anticipate a lot of action in the month of March," Kaag told the AP after briefing the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' executive council in a closed-door meeting.
"But of course our message is always one of continued expectation to achieve more, to do more and to do it safely and securely."
The international community is aiming to remove and destroy 1,300 metric tons of chemicals. Syria has been criticized for the slow pace of the operation and the Pentagon last week urged Damascus to speed up. Kaag said that to date nearly one third of the material has been removed or destroyed inside the country.
The international effort was sparked by an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of people and was blamed on the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which denied involvement.