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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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January 1st, 2014
11:28 AM ET

Expert: December deadline for Syria's chemical weapons 'was never realistic'

(CNN) - Syria missed a deadline to hand over a significant portion of its chemical weapons stockpile Tuesday, citing a number of reasons including bad weather, according to the organization overseeing the disarmament.

"There are milestones for a reason. It was always an ambitious time line, but we are still operating on the June 30 timeline for the complete destruction," State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said Monday.

A June deadline is "certainly in the realm of possibility," said David Kay, former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, now a member of the State Department's international security advisory board.

The December 31 deadline, Kay adds, "was never realistic."

Syria will likely not face consequences for missing the deadline, because the deal struck to rid the country of its chemical weapons arsenal involved "giving Syria a free pass on a number of things," said Kay.

"In this case, the decision was made, the primary objective was to get those weapons out of Syria. We have ignored a lot of Syrian attacks, military operations, since then," said Kay.

During the last three weeks, Syria has carried out military operations, justifying them by by saying they are clearing the highway upon which those chemical weapons would have to move.

Since December 15, Syrian forces have killed more than 500 people, mostly by dropping explosive-filled barrels in areas where rebels live. Scores of civilians have been killed.

The U.S. is not interfering with Syria's conventional weapons use, but got involved with chemical weapons because of "a combination of politics and morals," said Kay.

President Barack Obama publicly drew a red line against Syria in August 2012, threatening dire consequences if Syria began using chemical weapons.

"Most of those dire consequences looked as bad for us as they did for the Syrians, so the Secretary of State negotiated this deal, which involves destroying those chemical weapons," said Kay.

"We became a partner with Assad in order to get those weapons out, and so the previous priority, that is to stop the killing and to remove Assad, took a very secondary role, at least until those weapons are out," said Kay.

Meanwhile, weapons of the non-chemical variety continue to claim lives in Syria.

"It was inevitable when this deal was reached that there are some things Assad can do that you will simply have to ignore until those weapons are removed," said Kay. "It's very unpleasant to do it and it does compromise certain values."

But it is not just the U.S. staying largely silent about atrocities wreaked by conventional weapons. Other states have been silent as well, and the United Nations toned down its criticism on humanitarian grounds of the Assad regime. Without Assad's cooperation, there is no hope of destroying Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

"If you still think it's important to get those weapons out, you're going to have to swallow hard, hold your nose, and to a large extent close your eyes until that's accomplished," said Kay.

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