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US official: Syria must destroy chemical weapons facilities, in addition to chemical agents

WASHINGTON - Even after it surrenders 100 per cent of its chemical weapons, Syria will have to take additional steps before achieving full compliance with commitments it made to eliminate its arsenal, the State Department's top arms control official said Friday.

"I've been urging people not to declare victory when the last chemicals leave the country. We cannot do that," said Rose Gottemoeller, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

She said during a breakfast meeting with reporters that Syria must also destroy facilities, including hangars and tunnels, associated with its program. And she said there are unresolved "omissions" in the Syrian government's declaration of its chemical stockpile. She said those alleged discrepancies are being pursued by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which monitors implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Syria ratified the convention last year as part of the deal to eliminate its chemical weapons.

There also is an investigation into reports of alleged chlorine gas use in some Syrian towns, causing deaths and injuries.

Gottemoeller said Syria has moved about 92 per cent of its chemical weapons stocks to port for shipment out of the country. She said the rest are at a single site near Damascus.

The head of the United Nations mission charged with destroying Syria's chemical weapons said Thursday the last 16 containers of chemical agents are in a contested area that is currently inaccessible due to the fighting.

The U.S. has a ship on standby to undertake the destruction of Syria's chemicals. The MV Cape Ray has on board two huge machines, called field deployable hydrolysis systems, which will mix the chemicals with heated water and other chemicals to break down the toxic weapons in a titanium reactor, making them inert.

A Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Friday that the Cape Ray will not begin its mission until all of the Syrian chemicals have been moved out of the country. Danish and Norwegian cargo vessels are to transport the chemicals from a Syrian port to an Italian port for transfer aboard the Cape Ray.

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