A key deadline in the quest to rid Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime of its chemical weapons has been met, according to international observers.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced Thursday that "the government of the Syrian Arab Republic has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable."
It adds that "by doing so, Syria has met the deadline set by the OPCW Executive Council to 'complete as soon as possible and in any case not later than 1 November 2013, the destruction of chemical weapons production and mixing/filling equipment.' "
Reuters, which broke the news earlier today, adds that "the next deadline is Nov. 15, by when the OPCW and Syria must agree to a detailed plan of destruction, including how and where to destroy more than 1,000 metric tonnes of toxic agents and munitions."
The weapons and ingredients are supposed to be destroyed by mid-2014.
As NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reported Thursday on Morning Edition, though, "it's just not as easy to destroy chemical weapons as it used to be."
He says that "experts agree it can be done":
"Virtually all of Syria's chemicals are ingredients, not weapons. That means they're toxic, but safer to transport. And there's a new technique for disposal. It's called hydrolysis, and it basically involves breaking the chemicals down, using hot water and other chemicals like bleach. The waste liquid from hydrolysis still needs to be treated but is a lot less dangerous."
"The key will be finding a country willing to accept chemicals from Syria. With environmental regulations these days, diplomacy — not technology — will be the hard part. Norway already has already declined a U.S. invitation to take the stuff, in part due to its local environmental regulations. France, Belgium and Albania, which destroyed its own chemical stocks in 2007, are thought to still be under consideration."
The Assad regime agreed to give up its chemical weapons and to destroy the facilities in mid-September as part of a deal brokered by the U.S. and Russia. The agreement was reached after the U.S. moved Navy ships within striking range of Syria and threatened to take military action following reports of a chemical weapons attack on civilians near Damascus in August.