Assad Regime Slows In Handing Over Chemical Weapons

The U.S. and international monitors are expressing concern over delays in the the handover of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. Many experts now suspect that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime may be dragging its feet.

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The Syrian government is also supposed to be surrendering its lethal chemical arsenal. But the handover of toxic chemicals to an international coalition is way behind schedule. As NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports, that's causing real concern.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Under an agreed plan, hundreds of tons of toxic chemicals were supposed to be moved to a Syrian port by the end of December and loaded onto international ships. That plan is now a month behind schedule and the U.S. is not happy. State Department spokesperson, Jennifer Psaki.

JENNIFER PSAKI: This not rocket science here. They're dragging their feet. We need them to pick up those feet and run with this and move forward in moving the chemical weapons stockpile to the port.

BRUMFIEL: This week, U.S. officials said only about 4 percent of the most dangerous chemicals had arrived so far. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently said that he needed more equipment and protection for the shipments to go ahead. The U.S. and the United Nations reject those claims. Countries have already supplied tracking devices, specialized containers, and armored trucks for moving the chemicals.

Security along the highway to the port is a problem, says Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. But Tabler says there may be another reason for Assad to stall.

ANDREW TABLER: I think he knows that his usefulness to the international community, particularly the West, drops off as soon as those chemical agents are delivered to the international community.

BRUMFIEL: Once the chemicals are out, the U.S. and its allies might step up pressure for Assad to give up power.

TABLER: President Assad doesn't want to go, so therefore dragging his feet on the chemical weapons could lead to the international community tolerating his existence even longer.

BRUMFIEL: Whatever the real reason for the delay, observers agree that Syria needs to speed things up. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News.

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