Experts: Public Needs More Details on Syria Chemical Destruction

Students in Gioia Tauro in January protest plans to transfer Syrian chemical-warfare materials between ships at the Italian port city. Arms control experts on Monday urged the Obama administration to release additional data on plans to destroy Syrian chemical-weapons stocks in the Mediterranean Sea.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
Feb. 4, 2014, 7:57 a.m.

Arms con­trol ex­perts pressed the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on Monday to re­lease troves of data on plans to des­troy Syr­ia’s dead­li­est chem­ic­al arms at sea.

Fail­ure to do so could lead to new polit­ic­al obstacles for the ef­fort to des­troy Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment’s “pri­or­ity” chem­ic­al stocks on­board a spe­cially equipped ship in the Medi­ter­ranean Sea, 11 U.S. and European spe­cial­ists warned in a let­ter to Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry and De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel.

“There are already clear signs of dis­con­tent and anxi­ety [about the plan] com­ing from Italy, Greece, Tur­key and Cyprus,” the au­thors said. “Such op­pos­i­tion could clearly delay or pre­vent the timely and im­port­ant mis­sion to safely elim­in­ate Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons stock­pile in 2014.”

The U.S. ves­sel MV Cape Ray is ex­pec­ted to neut­ral­ize more than 500 met­ric tons of war­fare chem­ic­als after pick­ing them up from the south­ern Itali­an port of Gioia Tauro. That is after Dan­ish and Nor­we­gi­an cargo ships, un­der in­ter­na­tion­al mil­it­ary es­cort, trans­port the sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­als to Italy from the Syr­i­an port at Latakia.

The ex­perts voiced sup­port for the strategy, and said de­struc­tion equip­ment on the Cape Ray would “min­im­ize any po­ten­tial risks to pub­lic health and the en­vir­on­ment.” They ar­gued, though, that a dir­ec­ted com­mu­nic­a­tion strategy is ne­ces­sary “for the pub­lic to be re­as­sured.”

Dur­ing the de­struc­tion pro­cess, U.S. per­son­nel “should provide daily up­dates, in­clud­ing any mon­it­or­ing data of air and wa­ter, via a ded­ic­ated web­site,” the ex­perts said. “In ad­di­tion, live, 24-hour web­cams on­board the ship should be con­sidered as a con­fid­ence-build­ing meas­ure.”

The ex­perts also re­com­men­ded con­ven­ing pan­el dis­cus­sions in Medi­ter­ranean na­tions to ad­dress the “tech­nic­al pro­cesses” of the de­struc­tion pro­ject, as well as its “po­ten­tial risks and be­ne­fits.” They called for such events to in­clude both gov­ern­ment rep­res­ent­at­ives and in­de­pend­ent ex­perts.

The au­thors ad­ded, though, that the “the most ur­gent is­sue today is to make sure that all rel­ev­ant chem­ic­als from the Syr­i­an stock­piles are speedily de­livered to the port of Latakia and loaded onto … Nor­we­gi­an and Dan­ish ships.” The trans­port­a­tion of chem­ic­als from across the war-battered na­tion has pro­gressed slowly, prompt­ing an in­ter­na­tion­al con­tro­versy over wheth­er the As­sad’s gov­ern­ment is de­lib­er­ately delay­ing the pro­cess.

The let­ter’s sign­ers in­clude former Rus­si­an Am­bas­sad­or Serguei Bat­san­ov, as well as chem­ic­al-weapons ex­perts Paul Walk­er, Ralf Trapp and Jean Pas­cal Zanders. Elio Pa­cilio, pres­id­ent of Green Cross Italy, joined onto the let­ter; and Daryl Kim­ball, who heads the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­ation, and Shar­on Squas­soni, dir­ect­or of the Pro­lif­er­a­tion Pre­ven­tion Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Stra­tegic and In­ter­na­tion­al Stud­ies, are among the missive’s U.S. sign­ers.

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