BEIRUT – With its latest deadline days away, Syria is close to eliminating its stockpile of chemical weapons, monitors said Tuesday, an improbable accomplishment in the midst of civil war that is likely to diminish further the possibility of international intervention.
After a slow start that prompted U.S. accusations of stalling, the government of President Bashar Assad has shipped almost 90 percent of its chemical weapons materials out of the country, raising hopes that it can finish the job by Sunday.
A United Nations plan that averted punitive U.S. airstrikes last year sets June 30 as the deadline for all of Syria’s chemical weapons materials to be destroyed. But the first and hardest task has been shipping it out of the country through the Mediterranean port of Latakia.
The destruction of the weapons would be one of the few positive developments in three years of war that has left tens of thousands of Syrians dead and forced millions from their homes. And it would allow the Obama administration to claim a success in its response to the use of chemical weapons in suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian capital, last August.
After moving warships into position off Syria’s coast, President Barack Obama announced he would seek congressional authorization for military action – and met stiff resistance. The deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons was brokered by Russia, an ally of Assad.
The Syrian leader may have concluded that he is able to continue making gains against rebel forces without resorting to chemical weapons. Military gains also have secured roads to the coast, making it easier to remove the arsenal.