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A Dutchwoman Leads Mission to Destroy Syria’s Chemical Weapons


Sigrid Kaag, a Dutch national, has been named special coordinator for the joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations, which began its work Oct. 16 to manage the destruction of Syria’s chemical stockpiles and production operations, operating under a mandate from a Security Council resolution passed in September. Kaag has already arrived in Cyprus, where the joint mission is based.

Sigrid Kaag with Ban Ki-moon at the UN press briefing
Sigrid Kaag, the new special coordinator of the mission to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons, with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a press event announcing her appointment. MARK GARTEN/UN

Kaag, who was born in 1961, works for the UN Development Program as an assistant secretary-general and assistant administrator and director of the partnerships bureau. She previously worked for Unicef in Amman, Jordan, as the regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, among other assignments.

In her new post as special coordinator, Kaag “will be responsible for overseeing all activities on the ground undertaken by the OPCW and United Nations personnel,” Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, said of the recent announcement, adding that she will report directly to him and to the director general of the chemical weapons organization, Ahmet Uzumcu.

Kaag’s role specifically includes ensuring access and security for the inspectors as well as providing logistical, communications, medical, administrative and policy support.

The UN and other relevant officials have repeatedly emphasized that dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal in an incredibly tense war zone is unprecedented. Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the UN, said this week about the work: “Never before have international experts been asked to locate, secure and destroy a vast quantity of nerve agents, toxins and other chemical arms in a country torn apart by conflict.”

The US has shipped 10 armored vehicles worth $1.55 million to support the mission in Syria, paid from the State Department’s nonproliferation and disarmament fund, reported CBS News. The US has spent $6 million so far to help eliminate the stockpile, the State Department says.

Kaag holds a master of philosophy degree in international relations of the Middle East from the University of Exeter and a master’s degree in international relations from Oxford. Besides her native Dutch, she is fluent in English, French and German and proficient in Arabic; she is married with four children.

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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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