The head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Tuesday, landed in Oslo on Sunday to begin three days of traditional prize events. Ahmet Üzümcü said he’s “optimistic” that OPCW workers will meet the UN’s deadline for ridding Syria of its chemical arsenal.
“I am pretty optimistic about that,” Ahmet Üzümcü told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) just after his arrival at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen. “There might be a few days of delay, but in general we are confident that we will be able to meet the deadline of June 2014 to destroy all chemical weapons in Syria.”
Üzümcü acknowledged there were some challenging “time lines, target dates” for also getting all “category one chemical weapons” out of Syria already by the end of this month. “This may not be possible because of all the technical issues we are facing in the country,” he said, “but again, a few days of delay won’t be much of a problem from my point of view.”
Üzümcü, a Turkish diplomat who has served as secretary general of the OWPC since 2010, has also represented Turkey at the NATO council in Brussels and at the United Nations’ disarmament conference in Geneva. He’s been deeply involved in disarmament issues for much of his career and also served as Turkish consul in Aleppo in Syria in the mid-1980s, so he is familiar with the country. He formerly served as Turkey’s ambassador to Israel as well.
He said the Nobel Peace Prize has boosted the morale of OPCW staff in Syria, who face highly demanding and dangerous tasks in dismantling and destroying the country’s deadly chemical arsenal.
“We are in the middle of a very challenging operation in Syria, but our staff has been very pleased and it actually has boosted their morale,” Üzümcü told NRK. “They are doing an excellent job at the moment.”
Üzümcü has a busy few days ahead of him, with international press meetings and dinner with the Norwegian Nobel Committee on Monday, an audience at the Royal Palace with King Harald and Queen Sonja, the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony itself, the prize banquet and several other meetings on Tuesday, followed by more meetings and the Nobel Concert on Wednesday.
“Actually it’s always very nice to be back in Oslo, but of course this time, the occasion is overwhelming,” Üzümcü told NRK. “We are humbled and very pleased to be here to accept this Nobel Peace Prize for 2013.”
Asked about his expectations for the next few days, he said he also intended to savour the dizzying whirl of events.
“I actually hope to enjoy these next few days with my colleagues, who will join me (on Monday),” Üzümcü said. The Nobel entourage traditionally stays at the Grand Hotel in Oslo, from which they’ll also be able to watch the annual torchlight parade honouring prizewinners just before the banquet begins at 7pm on Tuesday.