Syria Misses Another Chemical Weapons Benchmark Despite 'Significant Progress'

MUNSTER, GERMANY - MARCH 05:  Destroyed ammunition is stored in a container during a press day at the GEKA facility on March
MUNSTER, GERMANY - MARCH 05: Destroyed ammunition is stored in a container during a press day at the GEKA facility on March 5, 2014 in Munster, Germany. GEKA is federally-funded and its sole function is the destruction of chemical weapons from military arsenals. Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons last August and disposal, which is already underway on an American ship in the Mediterranean, is scheduled to be completed by June. (Photo by Nigel Treblin/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL -- An informal deadline for Syria to export all of its chemical weapons stocks passed on Sunday with the government having come close -- but not quite all the way -- to meeting its obligations, the organization overseeing the deal announced.

Sigrid Kaag, the head of the Syria mission for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told reporters in Damascus, Syria, that the regime had so far eliminated 92.5 percent of its chemical stores, and she hailed the accomplishment as a sign of "significant progress," if not total success, according to The Associated Press.

"I strongly encourage (the Syrian government) to go for that last push that we can really talk of hundred percent removal and destruction," Kaag said.

The OPCW had steadily offered public words of encouragement as the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad tip-toed toward various deadlines in the agreement, which was worked out last summer between American and Russian diplomats as a way of averting possible U.S. airstrikes.

The organization had pointed to April 27 as a key date by which all Syrian chemical weapons would have to be removed in order to meet the formal deadline of June 30 to destroy them.

Several previous deadlines and benchmarks have come and gone unmet, and in February the parties to the deal agreed to move back the goal for final weapons removal to April. The Syrian government has insisted the delays are an inevitable part of trying to dismantle and move a dangerous chemical weapons arsenal in a time of war, but Western governments have accused it of intentionally stalling.

Critics of the deal point to the fact that despite progress on chemical weapons, there are few if any other signs that the war slowed -- or that the intensity with which both sides have waged it has decreased.

In lieu of chemical weapons, government forces have turned to dropping deadly, makeshift "barrel bombs" on rebel-held and residential areas, most prominently in Aleppo, where the devices have killed a thousand or more people.

And more recently, the regime has been accused by rebel groups of turning to another chemical to attack opposition areas: chlorine, which is not technically on the OPCW's list of banned ingredients.

The government has strongly denied that it has used chlorine and has pinned the blame on the rebel groups themselves.

Meanwhile, the OPCW's Kaag said that of the 7.5 percent of the country's lethal chemical stores still in the country, the majority consists of disparate raw materials, and the facilities required to create weapons out of them -- or, for that matter, to launch attacks with them -- have been destroyed.

"What remains are the elements of a chemical weapon, but the chemical weapons programme of Syria, as per the current declaration to the OPCW under the Chemical Weapons Convention, is no longer in existence," she said.