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
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
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
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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs