‘Deadlines for Syria chem weapons eradication need flexibility’

Amid criticism of Syria missing deadlines it should be remembered that the timeframes are extremely challenging and being implemented in a war zone, Charles Shoebridge, security analyst and former British counter terrorism intelligence officer, told RT.

UK's Prime Minister David Cameron sharply criticized the pace of Syria's chemical disarmament, calling for more haste in his speech on Wednesday. Cameron cited missed deadlines and a lack of clarity from the Assad government as the most worrying developments.

Shoebridge reminds that the situation is largely dependent upon rebels not attacking the process of transportation and eradication of the chemical weapons.

RT:The US was the first to raise concerns about the delay, now it's been followed by the UK - is any other country likely to follow?

Charles Shoebridge: Yes, we can probably see France joining in, perhaps Israel as well and of course Saudi Arabia – the usual suspect, some cynics might say - who of course will use anything in accordance with their foreign policy to attack Syrian Assad. Just as Assad’s supporters will also use anything to their propaganda advantage.

I think we really need to see this context from Cameron and from Kerry recently in the context of the wider political situation. We have the Geneva 2 talks resuming quite shortly. We’ve also noticed that Assad is being quite widely criticized now by many of the Western powers. For example, use of these barrel bombs in Aleppo. In recent months we’ve seen perhaps less criticism or condemnation of Assad by name from the UK or US governments as they wanted to hedge their bets as to what of the outcome of the war and indeed what the correct outcome, as far as their interests are concerned, will be.

It’s also very important to keep a perspective on this from the chemical weapons viewpoint as well. That is whereas Cameron [on Wednesday], and Kerry before, being very critical of Syria missing by a few weeks these initial deadlines. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who is managing this process of removal of [chemical] weapons from Syria, has come out and said that these deadlines are, in fact, soft deadlines and the West shouldn’t be too concerned about the deadlines being missed at this stage. And the OPCW has reiterated its satisfaction and its confidence that June 30 deadline of complete eradication of these weapons should be met.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (Reuters / Andrew Winning)

RT:The International regulating body overseeing the disarmament process doesn't seem to share this level of concern, why is that?

CH: It’s going to be remembered that the OPCW, and indeed almost all military and security commentators, will point out that these deadlines were set under very challenging circumstances if one remembers Russia and Syria agreed to these deadlines under the threat of a missile attack from the US and others on Syria shortly after the Ghouta alleged chemical weapon attack.

It should be remembered that it’s an extremely challenging set or deadlines that have been given. I think the OPCW realizes this. The OPCW isn’t interested at this stage in scoring the political points as both sides of the Syria dispute are. What they are interested in is facilitating and having completed their task of eradicating Syrian chemical weapons. One more thing, countries such as the US in their eradication program of chemical weapons faced many delays, asked for many extensions of deadlines, and so I believe did Russia.

These extensions of the deadlines and difficulties of meeting these deadlines in terms of chemical weapon destruction are well-recognized and well-established. These deadlines were set only for the matter of weeks for Syria instead of months and years for the US. And uniquely in this case the disposal of the chemical weapons on this scale also is actually taking place in an active war zone. And it should be said that as indeed the Russian Foreign Minister pointed out in the last couple of days, that there have been a number of security issues to this. And indeed, Syrian soldiers have been killed guarding these chemical weapons.

RT:The [British] prime minister also promised to put pressure on all sides. How much influence does he have?

CH: David Cameron can say that pressure should be applied by all sides to all sides of the Syrian chemical weapons equation but the fact is that form the UK perspective and indeed the US perspective, it has very little leeway to apply pressure to either the side of Assad to speed up this process, or secondly, to apply pressure to the other side of this equation, which is of course rebels, who are to some extent, and this is the Assad government’s claim, providing the security risk threat to the eradication process. For example, transport of these materials is said to have been attacked with even deaths of Syrian security personnel taking place.

So there is some sort of security issue actually there, but generally speaking the US and the UK have very little influence over rebels, they have very little influence on the official Syrian opposition that has shown at Geneva. The Syrian opposition has very little control over the rebels on the ground in Syria. So on all sides the situation is really dependent upon rebels not attacking this process of transport and eradication of these chemical weapons and their constituent ingredients.

But also, of course, on the Assad government, perhaps with Russian pressure, continuing momentum of the pace of the program. It should be borne in mind that deadlines that were set for Syria are extremely challenging, that is accepted by experts around the world. Other countries such as the US have been given deadlines in their chemical weapon eradication programs not of weeks, as it is in the case of Syria, but many years. And even in that case these deadlines slipped and were extended.

So it’s not surprising that particularly in the war zone that these very optimistic timelines that were set for full eradication of Syrian chemical weapons have to show some flexibility.