UNITED NATIONS - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon suggested in a report on Tuesday that an operation to remove Syria's chemical weapons had been unnecessarily delayed and urged the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad to speed up the process.

Under a deal negotiated by Russia and the United States, Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal after an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack, which killed hundreds of people and led to threats of US air strikes. The Syrian government and rebels blamed each other for the attack.

Ban said in a report to the UN Security Council, dated Jan. 27 but made publicly available on Tuesday, that a Dec. 31 deadline for removing Syria's worst chemicals had been missed. Syria has said the operation faces security challenges.

"While remaining aware of the challenging security situation inside the Syrian Arab Republic, it is the assessment of the Joint Mission that (Syria) has sufficient material and equipment to carry out multiple ground movements to ensure the expeditious removal of chemical weapons material," Ban said.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons set the Dec. 31 deadline for the removal from Syria of the worst chemicals, which include components for making sarin and VX nerve agent. These toxins are supposed to be destroyed offshore on a specially equipped US ship by March 31.

The rest of Syria's chemical materials are due to be transferred out of the country by Feb. 5 and destroyed by June 30. The operation is being overseen by a joint mission of the global chemical arms watchdog and the United Nations.

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