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Search for Syrian Chemical Host Prompts Muted Global Response

The United States recently courted countries across Europe and the Middle East to potentially host Syrian chemical-warfare materials or their remnants, but no nation made an immediate, public leap for the opportunity, Foreign Policy magazine reported on Thursday.

At least one plan calls for all but the deadliest materials in the Syrian government's chemical arsenal to be eliminated outside the nation's borders. However, locations for the planned destruction effort remained unclear, as did the ultimate destinations of its by-products.

 

A largely U.S.-led search for destruction assistance included contacts with Albania, Belgium, France and Russia, which all have historical experience in destroying chemical-weapon stocks. U.S. officials also reached out to Norway, which has no history in dealing with such substances.

One chemical-weapon expert said he was "surprised" by the latter inquiry.

"The best option is to destroy the chemicals and the precursors on-site in Syria. That would seem better than approaching a country like Norway," said Paul Walker, international program director of the environmental security and sustainability program of Green Cross and Global Green.

 

The Syrian government admitted possessing chemical weapons and agreed to their destruction about a month ago, after an August nerve-gas attack prompted an immediate threat of U.S. military intervention in the country's civil war. The agreement kicked off a whirlwind disarmament effort resulting in Friday's Nobel Peace Prize award to the international agency charged with counting and overseeing elimination of the Syrian stocks.

An eight-month push to corral and destroy the arms will involve "exceedingly complex security challenges related to ensuring a safe operating environment at destruction sites," U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon said in a Monday planning document. The U.N. Security Council later signed off on the U.N. chief's proposal, the Associated Press reported on Friday.

What equipment would destroy the materials also remains uncertain. The U.S. Defense Department on Tuesday described a recently developed, portable disposal system to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has until Nov. 15 to settle on specific gear, Reuters reported.

"This is very big business, very political, and several governments are pushing for it," said Dieter Rothbacher, a former OPCW personnel trainer.

 

A spasm of Thursday violence near a reported chemical-arms site underscored security risks to the international disarmament effort, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Backers of the Syrian resistance said the stepped-up fighting took place near the Safira Defense Factories and Scientific Research Facilities. A number of specialists said the Safira installation -- a reported laboratory and manufacturing site -- is among the country's most sizable and cutting-edge.

Moscow, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, reaffirmed its contention that the opposition is engaged in chemical-warfare activities, state-run Russia Today reported on Friday.

“Some reports indicate that [the] al-Nusra Front is planning to smuggle toxic compounds and relevant specialists into Iraqi territory to stage terrorist attacks there this time,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Lavrov added that operatives from outside governments might have given related training to Syrian opposition fighters in tribal territories of Afghanistan. The Russian media report did not identify what countries could have contributed.

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