Oren Dorell, USA TODAY
Syria missed another deadline Wednesday for destroying its chemical weapons amid a British report that Bashar Assad's regime is stockpiling the weaponry for use in case the country is partitioned.
Syria agreed last year to turn over its chemical weapons to the United Nations as Western powers were threatening to attack the country for using the weapons on neighborhoods where rebels against his regime were hiding out.
Hundreds of women and children died in the attacks in what President Obama called a "red line" that would force him to consider military action. But Obama backed down after Russia offered to broker a deal with its ally Assad and get him to agree to relinquish his chemical weapons stockpiles.
Under a timetable set up by the U.N. Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Syria was to have given up its entire stockpile of chemical weapons by Wednesday.
Syria has delivered only a small fraction of the most dangerous components of its chemical weapons — sarin, mustard and VX gases — all of which were supposed to be handed over by Dec. 31, according to OPCW.
Delivery of all the less-dangerous industrial chemical components was supposed to be completed by Wednesday.
"They're not going to make that timeline either," said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the U.N. organization, which is overseeing the dismantling of Syria's illicit weapons program. The mission, which started off strong last fall, "has reached a kind of a stasis at the moment."
To date, only 4% of Syria's chemical weapons components have been delivered to the port of Latakia to be loaded onto ships and transported for destruction abroad.
Russia said Tuesday that Syria is preparing a new schedule and will make further shipments soon. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad said Syria is still cooperating.
However, analysts and a British publication say Syria is hiding much of its stockpile from the U.N.
A report in the Times of London cited unnamed Russian and Israeli sources saying Syria is working with Iran and North Korea to upgrade its stockpile to use as an "insurance policy" or deterrent to defend Assad's Alawite homeland in northwestern Syria from being overrun by regime opponents.
Emanuele Ottolenghi, an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the report has not been confirmed but that it wouldn't be a surprise because such behavior "is in character" for the Assad regime.
"The regime wasn't admitting to even having chemical weapons until the deal was struck last September," Ottolenghi said. "Those weapons were always an insurance policy for regime survival, and it's therefore doubtful that the regime would give them up."
Syrian officials have cited safety concerns for the delay and issued a list of items to preserve convoys of trucks as they transport hundreds of tons of material cross-country in the midst of civil war. They've asked for armored troop carriers and armored sleeves to fit around shipping containers loaded with canisters of chemicals.
The State Department has dismissed the Syrian request as foot dragging.
"The regime has every tool they need in order to deliver on their promise of moving the chemical weapons to the port at Latakia," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "That is the step they need to take."
The State Department has asked Russia and other countries to see if progress can be made, Psaki said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Monday that Syria plans to send a large shipment of toxic agents out of the country this month and can remove all its chemical stockpile by March 1, according to a Reuters report.
Russia helped broker the Sept. 14 disarmament agreement in return for a U.S. pledge not to carry out military strikes after the White House determined that Assad used chemical weapons Aug. 21 in an attack that killed an estimated 1,400 civilians in a Damascus suburb.
Some 130,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war.
The plan called for Syria to declare its chemical weapons stockpiles and production facilities and to destroy them or deliver components for destruction. The entire process is to be complete by June 30.
Syria declared 1,430 tons of chemical weapons materials in addition to warheads, production and mixing and filling equipment in 23 sites. All declared equipment and munitions have been destroyed under OPCW monitoring, and now the chemicals need to be transported to Latakia to be shipped to a U.S. vessel that will destroy most of the remaining material, according to the OPCW.
Some analysts say the delays could be related to more mundane motivations.
The Syrian government could be "trying to slow roll" the process in order to obtain more equipment that can be used for military purposes after it's over, said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which promotes arms-control agreements.
It may also be seeking to keep equipment that would be manufactured in Syria, to benefit the regime's political allies in tough economic times, Kimball said.
"Somebody has to have a contract to build it," he said.http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/02/05/syria-chemical-weapons/5221017/