Middle East

Chemical arms watchdog adopts Syria stockpile plan

UN inspectors in Ain Terma, Syria, 28 Aug
Where the stockpile will be transported to be destroyed remains unclear

The global chemical weapons watchdog says it has now adopted a detailed plan for the destruction of Syria's stockpile by mid-2014.

Friday had been the deadline for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to agree a final destruction timetable.

The deadline was set under a US-Russia brokered plan backed by the UN.

The plan was adopted despite an earlier setback, when Albania rejected a request to host the destruction.

Where the stockpile will be transported to be destroyed remains unclear.

'Clear roadmap'

A statement on the OPCW website said that under the plan "Syrian chemical weapons will be transported for destruction outside its territory to ensure their destruction in the 'safest and soonest manner', and no later than June 30th 2014".

The "most critical" chemicals will be removed by 31 December and all other declared chemical substances by 5 February, except for isopropanol - one of two key ingredients for the nerve agent, sarin.

The statement read: "Syrian declared chemical weapons facilities will undergo sequenced destruction from 15 December to 15 March, according to a risk-based criterion."

Welcoming the adoption of the plan, OPCW director general Ahmet Umzucu said: "The plan provides a clear roadmap. It sets ambitious milestones to be met by the government of Syria.

"This next phase will be the most challenging and its timely execution will require the existence of a secure environment for the verification and transport of chemical weapons."

Friday's 41-member OPCW executive council meeting in The Hague did not detail where the weapons would be destroyed, following Albania's decision to reject hosting the destruction of the arsenal on its soil.

The Balkan nation had recently destroyed its own chemical stockpile, and the US had asked it to host the dismantling of Syria's weapons.

But following days of protests in the capital, Tirana, and other cities, Prime Minister Edi Rama said in a televised address: "It is impossible for Albania to get involved in this operation."

However, the prime minister attacked the Albanian opposition for having criticised his government's willingness to consider the idea.

The US embassy in Tirana said in a statement that it respected the government's decision, adding that America "will continue to work with allies and partners as well as the OPCW and the United Nations to ensure the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons programme".

France and Belgium have been named as possible alternative locations for destroying Syria's estimated 1,000 tonnes of chemical arms.

Norway has pledged to send a civilian cargo ship and a navy frigate to Syrian ports to pick up the weapons and carry them elsewhere for destruction.

However it said that it could not destroy the weapons on its own soil because it lacked the expertise.

The OPCW confirmed last month that it had destroyed all Syria's declared chemical weapons production facilities, ahead of a 1 November deadline.

The weapons themselves had been placed under seal, it said.

Sigrid Kaag, the joint OPCW-UN mission coordinator in Syria, told Friday's OPCW meeting that inspectors were working "in an active war zone, in an extreme security situation".

Demonstrators in Albania feared the proposal's safety implications and a possible impact on the tourism industry

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