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Cash for international Syria chemical watchdog may run out by end-November

Cash for international Syria chemical watchdog may run out by end-November
The international watchdog responsible for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons may soon run out of cash, as its current funding is only enough to see the time-consuming mission through to the end of November.

So far the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has raised about 10 million euros ($13.5 million) to keep the mission going, Reuters reported, based on an OPCW document dated October 25. At that point, the watchdog’s account held only 4 million euros.

"It is the assessment of the Secretariat that its existing personnel resources are sufficient for operations to be conducted in October and November 2013," the paper said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed to hand over his country’s chemical arms for destruction under the terms of a US-Russian agreement brokered in September. Assad then said that this “very complicated operation” would need “a lot of money, about a billion [$1 billion]."

The Hague-based OPCW’s decommissioning activities are usually financed out of its regular budget, which is supported by funding commitments by the organization’s 188 member states. The amount each country contributes is worked out on a UN sliding scale.

In mid-October, OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu established separate Trust Funds for wealthy countries to contribute to the organization, but so far substantial extra resources are needed.

The US has given approximately $6 million to support the mission of the OPCW-UN mission, and says the Obama administration intends to continue its assistance. So far, the US is the biggest contributor to the Syria mission.

Other contributing states include Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The UK has pledged to give $3 million. Russia, France and China have said they will donate experts and technical staff.  Germany, Italy and the Netherlands supplied air transport to fly OPCW team members to Syria, according to the document. Canada provided shipping for the US’s armored vehicles.

AFP Photo

Four other countries have pledged to contribute an additional 2.7 million euros to the OPCW fund, Reuters reported, citing the document.

But while the mission has been successfully accomplished so far, the UN-OPCW mission will require ongoing support for the final phase of destroying the weapons.

One major expenditure still to come is the shipping of raw chemicals out of Syria for safe destruction away from the war zone.

The US has said it is already laying the groundwork to provide substantial contributions to the destruction of weapons outside of Syria.  

Reuters reported that companies from the United States, Germany and France are competing for the contract to provide destruction facilities. 

On Tuesday, OPCW’s Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu provided an update on the progress made in the OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria since the last report on October, 25.

Uzumcu referred to the general plan for destruction, he said that Syria’s proposal “that the destruction of chemical weapons be carried out outside of the country constitutes the most viable option.”

Discussions are under way on where the final destruction of the weapons will take place. Albania, Belgium and an unspecified Scandinavian country are possible venues, according to the document.

On November 5, Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad reiterated that the country where the weapons arsenal will be transported to has not yet been determined.

“It’s still unknown,” he said. “Russia will take part [in destroying the Syrian chemical weapons] but in what capacity and to what extent is not determined yet.”

In September, as the chemical weapons elimination plan was announced, Damascus declared that it possessed 1,300 tons of chemicals and materials needed for chemical weapons production, as well as over 1,200 empty chemical munitions.

Last week, the OPCW said that Syria's entire declared stock of chemical weapons has been placed under seal. The organization admitted that Damascus has complied with the watchdog’s requirement, adopted on September 27, for the complete elimination of chemical weapons and production units in Syria before November 1.

The process of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons stocks has a target finish date of mid-2014.