Syria urged to step up efforts to ship chemical weapons

Crew member of the Norwegian frigate in Limassol (14 December 2013) The ship's crew will conduct military drills at sea while waiting for orders to proceed

The global chemical weapons watchdog has called on Syria to "intensify its efforts" to help ship out its most dangerous chemical weapons.

A Norwegian frigate is ready to go to the Syrian port of Latakia to collect the weapons for destruction.

The chemical watchdog said it was up to Syria to mitigate the risks involved in transporting the stockpile to the port.

Syria agreed to abandon its arsenal to avert possible US military action after a sarin nerve gas attack in August.

Under a deal brokered by the US and Russia, the complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment must be completed by the first half of 2014.

The "most critical" chemicals include around 20 tons of the blister agent sulphur mustard.

The arms are due to be taken to Italy, where they will be loaded on to a US Navy ship and shipped into international waters for destruction in a specially created titanium tank on board.

'Consider all options'

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body overseeing the destruction of the arms, said the logistic elements were in place to pick up the weapons.

OPCW chief Ahmet Umzucu said in a statement that the international community was "poised and ready".

He said the UN, Russia, and other countries directly involved in the removal had agreed on how to escort the cargo vessels from Syria, after a two-day meeting in Moscow.

Security assets involved in the operation include Russian armoured vehicles, US satellites and Chinese surveillance cameras to protect the hazardous cargo.

Syria's chemical weapons

  • Syria believed to possess 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents including sarin and more potent nerve agent VX
  • US believes arsenal can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria acceded to Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September; it signed Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972 but never ratified it

Mr Umzucu said Syrian authorities now had to "consider all possible options" to ensure the chemicals' safe transport from 12 storage sites in Syria to the loading bay in Latakia.

The port lies 300km (185 miles) north of the capital Damascus.

The OPCW earlier said that it did not expect to meet the 31 December deadline for shipping out the "most critical" chemicals.

Shifting battle-lines and road-closures caused by bad weather appeared to be the main causes of the delay.

The OPCW's head of logistics, Franz Krawinkler said these factors had disrupted delivery of essential supplies to sites where the toxins were being prepared.

The Norwegian frigate left the Cypriot port of Limassol on Saturday.

However, it will not enter Syrian waters until it receives the command from the UN teams in Syria.

The BBC's Anna Holligan, who is on board the warship, says the crew will conduct military drills at sea while awaiting the order to proceed to port.

Graphic. Background image shows stockpiles of chemical weapons in the US (2001)

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