You might remember that Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to praise President Bashar al-Assad of Syria for completing the job of destroying all chemical weapons facilities in record time.

According to the deal worked out in September with Assad’s protecter, Russia, Syria was to rid itself of all of its chemical weapon compounds and production facilities. The first part of that obligation was to neutralize all of the factories so that they could no longer produce chemical weapons. Syria reportedly allowed that task to be completed on time.

Syria has destroyed its declared chemical-weapons production facilities, international inspectors said Thursday, marking a major step in the complex task of ridding the country of the weapons of mass destruction.

The declaration came a day before a Nov. 1 deadline as the team overseen by the inspectors hewed to an ambitious schedule for destroying Syria’s entire chemical arsenal by the middle of next year — a far more rapid process than comparable efforts in other countries and one that must be implemented in the middle of a civil war.

A week later, Kerry publicly praised Assad.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that it was a “credit” for the Assad regime that the process of destroying the chemical weapons had begun in “record time” and with the compliance of Damascus.

“The process has begun in record time and we are appreciative for the Russian cooperation and obviously for Syrian compliance,” Mr. Kerry told reporters after talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation(APEC) summit in Indonesia. “I think it’s extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the [United Nations] resolution [on Syria’s chemical arsenal] being passed, some chemical weapons were being destroyed.”

The next step was to transport the chemicals used in making the weapons to the port of Latakia, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, from where they could be transported to their destruction.

The problem is that the second part of the process is, shall we say, not proceeding in “record time.”

The New York Times reported the other day, Second Cargo of Chemical Agents Leaves Syria as Pace Is Criticized:

The two cargos exported so far from the port of Latakia — the first left Jan. 7 — have each carried a total of 15 to 20 tons, diplomats and arms control experts have said privately. If confirmed, the low estimate would be only about 5 percent of the 600 tons of the most lethal compounds, including components of sarin and VX nerve agents, that Syria had been obliged to export by the end of 2013, the first deadline under the government’s pledge to renounce chemical weapons.

Reuters had more on Syria’s missed deadline:

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested in a report to the Security Council this week that shipments had been unnecessarily delayed and urged the Syrian government to speed up the process.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during a phone call on Wednesday to “press the (Syrian) regime to move forward with the necessary steps on the chemical weapons process,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a briefing.

I don’t expect that Kerry’s urging will do anything, but it’s a step that at least he acknowledges that there’s a problem. However, comments from two unidentified Western diplomats are very disturbing:

Another senior Western diplomat said the Syrian government is “teasing us” by dragging its heels but doing enough to avoid being declared in non-compliance with its obligation to destroy its chemical weapons program.

The second diplomat added that Russia would never permit the U.N. Security Council to declare Assad’s government in non-compliance with its duty to eliminate its poison gas program. …

“Our impression is that they (Assad’s government) are managing this issue in parallel with the Geneva discussion,” he said. “Everything is blocked so they are blocking on the chemical weapons to remind us” of their power on this issue.

The first tells us that Assad is simply doing the minimum required to avoid being deemed to be in violation. The second tells us that he’s using his leverage, because of the value placed on the Geneva talks. It sounds like Assad has learned his lesson that the West would rather talk and agree than fight.

No doubt his sponsors in Tehran are paying attention.

[Photo: KazakhTVchannel / YouTube ]