News / Middle East

OPCW Plan for Destroying Syrian Chemical Weapons Complex, Chancy

The cargo ship MV Cape Ray, owned by the U.S. Navy, in Portsmouth, Virginia, May 6, 2012.  (Photo by Thoralf Doehring AFP)
The cargo ship MV Cape Ray, owned by the U.S. Navy, in Portsmouth, Virginia, May 6, 2012. (Photo by Thoralf Doehring AFP)
Cecily Hilleary
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, which has been tasked with ensuring that Syria destroys its chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of next year, outlined its plans for accomplishing that task this week.  It will not be easy, and OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said that states assisting in the mission have, “in the interest of the common good, assumed onerous responsibilities” in executing a plan that has been so quickly put together.

Gregory KoblentzGregory Koblentz
x
Gregory Koblentz
Gregory Koblentz
Gregory Koblentz, Deputy Director of the Biodefense Program at Virginia’s George Mason University, says the initial phase of the plan involves transporting the chemicals overland across Syria.  

“The chemicals are going to be packaged in Syria and then shipped overland to the city of Latakia, which is a major port on the Mediterranean,” Koblentz said.

“And then the chemicals will be picked up by Norwegian and Danish ships, which will then transport them to Italy.” 

There, the chemicals will be loaded on an American ship which has been outfitted with equipment to neutralize the chemicals.

Koblenz says that while the first stage of the plan is risky because it involves transporting chemicals across a country at war, he is optimistic the chemicals will make it to Latakia securely.

“Up until now, there’ve not been any significant reports that the conflict has interfered with the consolidation of the chemicals and the OPCW’s actions on the ground,” Koblentz said. “So while the route from Damascus to Latakia might be somewhat troublesome, the rebels so far have cooperated with the OPCW, and it’s in their interest to have these chemicals to get out of the country.”

Multinational effort

Uzumcu told his executive council Tuesday that Syria will bear sole responsibility for the packing and transport of the materials. The US has supplied nearly 3,000 container drums, among other equipment, as well as GPS locators that will allow authorities to know where the cargo is at all times. 

Russia is providing large capacity and armored trucks, water tanks, and other logistical supplies. Moscow has also said it will provide security for operation at the port and in Syrian territorial waters.  It is unclear from reports whether Russia will also provide transportation or security during the land phase of the operation.

China is providing surveillance cameras and 10 ambulances.

Perhaps the riskiest leg of the OCPW plan, the land route from Damascus to Latakia portPerhaps the riskiest leg of the OCPW plan, the land route from Damascus to Latakia port
x
Perhaps the riskiest leg of the OCPW plan, the land route from Damascus to Latakia port
Perhaps the riskiest leg of the OCPW plan, the land route from Damascus to Latakia port


Risky business

The original goal was to remove the most critical chemicals from Syria by the end of the year, but the OPCW has warned there may be delays. 

“We must also remember that the mission in the Syrian Arab Republic is making progress against heavy odds,” Uzumcu warned.  “The continued heavy fighting in the Qalamoun and surrounding areas and the closure of a major arterial road between Damascus and Homs pose risks to the timely execution of the operation.”

Amy SmithsonAmy Smithson
x
Amy Smithson
Amy Smithson
But time is not the only worry, says chemical weapons expert Amy Smithson, Senior Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

“That’s a lot of stuff going down the road—in distinctive trappings,” she said, describing a ‘caravan’ of trucks carrying large container drums, surrounded by security.

“There are all sorts of warring parties in Syria—some 200 entities including Al Qaeda and Hezbollah who might view this as an attractive target.”

If there is a time that will keep proliferation experts up at night says Smithson, this would be it. 

“Once the cargo makes it to Latakia,” Smithson said, “we are in very familiar territory.”

Danish and Norwegian ships will transport the chemicals to an Italian port which has not been specified.  “My guess would be Naples,” Smithson said, “because the U.S. Navy has had a presence there for decades.”

There, about 500 metric tons of the most dangerous chemical material will be loaded onto an American ship, the MV Cape May, which has been outfitted with two field hydrolysis systems which will degrade the mustard gas and the most hazardous chemicals. The ship will also transport and dispose of the waste material generated by the process. 

Meanwhile, a number of private commercial companies will transport about 800 metric tons of industrial-grade organic and non-organic chemicals to private facilities, where they will be disposed of.

Smithson says that these companies will operate according to laws and regulations for the safe and environmentally responsible handling of toxic chemical waste in their respective countries.

Since they are apparently all U.S. and European firms, she says those regulations are among the toughest—“if not the toughest” in the world.

You May Like

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid