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U.S. blasts Syria for "seriously languished and stalled" removal of chemical weapons

In a blistering statement delivered Thursday at a meeting of the international chemical weapons watchdog agency, U.S. Ambassador Robert Mikulak said the effort to remove Syria’s toxic agents had "seriously languished and stalled," and blamed the government of President Bashar Assad for the delay.

The Syrian government has cited security concerns for causing the delays and has requested additional equipment including armored jackets for shipping containers, electronic countermeasures and detectors for improvised explosives. However, U.S. officials say the regime is causing the delay and that the security claims are without merit, suggesting a "bargaining mentality" from Damascus.

Under a timeline drawn up last year, the most toxic chemicals -- known as "priority 1" materials -- in Syria's 1,300-metric-ton stockpile were to have been removed from the country by Dec. 31, but that deadline was missed.

Later Wednesday, the State Department also scolded Syria for failing to transport its chemical agents out of the country.

"The delay by Syria is increasing the cost to nations that have donations for shipping escort and other services related to the removal effort," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. "There should be no doubt that the responsibility for the lack of progress and increasing costs rests solely with Syria."

CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan reports that so far, only 4 percent of the priority 1 chemicals, which include deadly agents like sarin gas, declared by Syria have been removed, according to U.S. government estimates. U.S. officials say the Assad regime has not even begun to transport the remaining Priority 1 chemicals to the designated Mediterranean port at Latakia for collection.

Ambassador Mikulak also said the delay was increasing the costs to nations that have made donations for shipping, escort and removal help. No estimates on that cost were provided though the U.S. has already given around $6 million to the effort via the State Department.

In addition, the U.S. Ambassador also said that Syria has not fully destroyed its chemical weapons production facilities as required, and claimed by the regime. Brennan says U.S. officials believe many of the measures that the Syrians have taken are actually readily reversible and do not meet requirements.  

Where Syria's chemical weapons are believed to have been located across the country
Where Syria's chemical weapons are believed to have been located across the country Nuclear Threat Initiative
 Mikulak spoke as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) met Thursday to discuss the slow progress in its mission.

OPCW  Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu told the Associated Press he spoke to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week, "and they both agreed that it was necessary for the removal process to pick up pace."

Uzumcu said Syria had complained of "certain security threats," but said the regime was committed to removing the chemicals "as soon as possible."  

A security analyst in Britain, who said he had spoken Wednesday to three officials from one of the countries involved in the removal operation, told CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer that while security issues were being held up as the primary cause for the slow movement of the weapons, “the underlying reason is that the chemical weapons are a valuable card for Assad.”

 While Assad doesn’t likely intend to use the weapons in the battle against opposition supporters -- as he already has according to the U.S. government, its allies and many non-governmental organizations -- he’s reluctant to hand them over and diminish his hand “in the diplomatic poker game,” according to the analyst.

“As long as he has the chemical weapons, he has a seat at the table,” said the analyst, who asked not to be named.

Speaking to reporters in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the U.S. was concerned about the delay in getting Syria's chemical weapons out of the country, but he would not speculate as to whether the delay was down to an inability on the part of the Syrians or anyone else to meet the deadlines, or deliberate stalling tactics by the Syrian regime.

A huge American ship, the MV Cape Ray, left port in Virginia just days ago on its way to the Mediterranean to collect the most toxic chemicals from Syria's stockpile.

The Cape Ray has been fitted with machines called Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems that will render agents like mustard gas and sarin inert by mixing them with water and a hosts of other chemical ingredients.

Danish and Norwegian cargo ships are to collect the contraband materials from Latakia and deliver them to the Cape Ray, which is to dock at the Italian port of Gioia Tauro.

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