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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