The removal and destruction of the most dangerous materials in Syrian chemical arsenal will likely be delayed until the end of June because of logistical and security problems, the head of the world's chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday.
Ahmet Uzumcu, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said he was "confident that all the chemicals could be destroyed by the end of June" - the original deadline for the complete elimination of Syrian chemical weapons programme and associate dmaterials.
He said "as we were not able to meet the timeline for the 31st of December, from my point of view what is important is really the end of June 2014, so we will do our best to meet it", adding "only about 16 tones of the total of 560 tonnes of the primary chemicals had so far been shifted to the Danish vessel".
Mustard gas and the components for making Sarin and VX - known as priority agents - were originally to have been destroyed by the end of March.
Syria has already missed a Dec. 31 goal to transport the most toxic substances to a port and so far has loaded only a relatively small amount of chemicals onto the Danish cargo ship Ark Futura.
Once the Danish ship has loaded all the primary agents, it will take them to the port of Gioia Tauro in southern Italy, where they will be transferred to a U.S. ship and later destroyed at sea.
Uzumcu said "the biggest area of concern is clearly the safe transportation of those weapons, chemical substances, from the sites in Syria to the port of Latakia", adding "some additional measures are being taken right now to reduce risks. We hope that we can move relatively quickly in the coming weeks".
Syrian government says opposition groups attacked two chemical storage sites more than a week ago.
Uzumcu said he met a Syrian delegation on Wednesday at The Hague to try to address security concerns.
Uzumcu is in Italy to address parliament about the transfer of the primary agents.
The U.S. ship MV Cape Ray, which has been specially equipped to destroy the nerve agents, is likely to be in the Mediterranean Sea by the end of January, Uzumcu said. The chemical transfer should take no more than 48 hours, he added.
As the international coordination to rid Syria of its arsenal continues, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday that Britain would award a contract to destroy around 150 tonnes of chemicals to French firm Veolia Environnement, adding that the chemicals will be processed at the firm's incineration plant at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, England .