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U.S. offers to destroy Syrian chemical weapons

A Free Syrian Army tank drives by Free Syrian Army fighters through a street in Aleppo on Saturday. (MOLHEM BARAKAT/REUTERS)

The United States has offered to help destroy some of the most lethal parts of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile at an offshore facility, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Saturday.

The international organization’s director general, Ahmet Uzumcu, said in The Hague that the U.S. government will contribute “a destruction technology, full operational support and financing to neutralize” the weapons, most likely on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea. The weapons are to be removed from Syria by Dec. 31.

Separately, Sigrid Kaag, appointed as the go-between for the United Nations and the OPCW on destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, laid out some logistical details. Importantly, the weapons will first be packaged and transported from multiple sites within Syria to the country’s largest port, Latakia. Then they will be loaded onto ships owned by other OPCW members before a second handoff to U.S. vessels.

The weapons and chemicals “will not be [destroyed] in Syrian territorial waters,” Kaag said at a news conference in Damascus.

The OPCW also wants nearly 800 tons of dual-use chemicals, many of which are common industrial chemicals, to be removed by Feb. 5 and later destroyed by private companies as part of its ambitious plan to completely eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons program by mid-2014.

Uzumcu said in a statement that 35 private companies have applied so far to participate and are at an early stage of being vetted.

The OPCW was given the responsibility of overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under an agreement reached between the United States and Syrian ally Russia on Sept. 14.

An initial plan to destroy chemicals and weapons in a third country was rejected after no nation was willing to accept the hazardous waste. The possibility of destroying chemicals and weapons in Syria itself was rejected as unworkable amid the country’s civil war.

In Saturday’s statement, the OPCW said a suitable U.S. naval vessel “is undergoing modifications to support the operations and to accommodate verification activities by the OPCW.”

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the ship in question is likely the MV Cape Ray, which would destroy chemical materials using a process developed by the Pentagon but never employed in an actual operation.

— Associated Press


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