The United States has expressed disquiet over the fact that the Syrian government is behind schedule on handing over its chemical weapons materials for destruction.
"The United States is concerned that the Syrian government is behind in delivering these chemical weapons, precursor materials on time and with the schedule that was agreed to," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on January 31.
Speaking on a visit to Poland, Hagel said it was unclear whether the delay was due to "incompetence" or some other reason.
The Syrian government missed a December 31 deadline to move its most dangerous chemical arms materials out of the country, and has this month shipped out only two small loads of chemicals.
According to a United Nations Security Council resolution, all of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons stockpile is supposed to be eliminated by June 30.
Hagel said he has discussed the issue of removing Syrian chemical weapons with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
"I spoke with the Russian defense minister and asked the minster to do what he could to influence the Syrian government to comply with the agreement that has been made," he said.
Russia is an ally of the Syrian government and negotiated with Washington last year on the deal in which the government agreed to surrender its chemical weapons stockpiles to avert threatened U.S. strikes.
The United States, along with Turkey and its Arab Persian Gulf allies, has been among the leading supporters of the opposition trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the threat of military force against Syria was never removed, but that the United States prefers to pursue diplomatic means.
"We've never taken the [military] option, as it relates to Syria, off the table," she said. "But obviously what we're pursuing now is the diplomatic path, both on the removal of chemical weapons and on the Geneva conference process."
The U.S. statements came as the first direct peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition were winding down in Geneva, Switzerland.
Officials say this week's talks appeared to make little progress in ending the nearly 3-year-old Syrian war, which has led to the deaths of an estimated 130,000 people and forced millions from their homes.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international group overseeing the removal and destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal, says that less than 5 percent of the chemicals declared by Syria have been removed so far.
Last September, the Obama administration threatened to launch strikes on the Syrian regime over its alleged use of chemical weapons.
The government in Damascus agreed to hand over its weapons for destruction following the U.S. threats.
Plans call for the government's chemical weapons materials to be shipped out of the port of Lakatia, and later destroyed by the United States military.
International investigators have confirmed the use of chemical arms multiple times in the Syrian conflict.
The government and opposition have accused each other of using chemical arms.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters