Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Monday that the effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons is “on target,” even though no nation has yet agreed to host the destruction.
“We’re on schedule” to remove chemical weapons from Syrian soil by the end of the year, Kerry said.
“We are not without other alternatives,” he said, adding: “We are actively pursuing two other alternatives.” He did not give details.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons plans to destroy Syria’s estimated 1,300-ton arsenal outside the country but has been unable to get any nation to agree to bring the stores of sarin and mustard gas, among other toxins, to its territory. Destruction is supposed to be complete by mid-2014.
Albania, which had been under U.S. pressure to perform some of the destruction work, declined last week amid strong public opposition. Norway had earlier said no.
Belgium and France were considered possibilities, but Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Monday that destruction should be done inside Syria.
“To transport them over long distances to bring them on our soil — we do not really see how to do that, and not only in Belgium, also in other European states,” Reynders said, according to the Associated Press.
At a news conference at the State Department, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Kerry glossed over past tension about the degree of U.S. commitment to protect Syrian refugees and end the 21 / 2-year-old conflict. The United States and Turkey are working side by side to bring the opposition and the Syrian government together for peace talks, Kerry said, claiming that the goal of negotiations is “closer, literally, day by day.”
A tentative date for talks this coming weekend was scuttled largely because of disagreements among rebel factions and their political representatives, but Kerry hailed recent word that the main political opposition is willing to attend.
“Our objective is to organize this conference as quickly as possible,” Davutoglu said. He offered no possible dates. Davutoglu reiterated Turkish concerns about the threat of attack along the long border with Syria and what he called the twin threat of extremism spreading from the conflict.
“On the other side of the border, there is no control,” Davutoglu said. “This creates a power vacuum that might be used by extremist groups.”
Davutoglu and Kerry accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using starvation as a weapon of war.
In a meeting with reporters after his session with Kerry, Davutoglu said his government was working with Iran and Iraq to lessen sectarian tension in the region. He acknowledged that Turkey and Iran have “different views” on Syria, with the Tehran government continuing to assist Assad and his military forces.
“There are certain indications that Iran is trying to have channels of communication for a new Syria policy,” said Davutoglu, who met recently with his Iranian counterpart. He declined to elaborate but said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would soon visit Turkey.
On a related issue, the Pentagon issued a statement after a meeting between Davutoglu and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying it would continue to field Patriot missile batteries in Turkey for at least a year. The missiles, under NATO command, were sent in response to a request by Turkey last year to augment its air defenses against any Syrian attack.
Davutoglu also said there is still time for the United States to sweeten its offer to build a missile defense system for Turkey, despite a provisional $3.4 billion deal that the Turks have signed with China.
Turkey’s criteria include provisions for joint production, a stepped-up delivery time and competitive pricing, Davutoglu said. His government would prefer to work with the United States, he said, and there has “not been a final decision.”