Biden Likely to Discuss U.S. Chemical Arms During Panama Trip

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Corroded chemical-warfare material is shown in this undated photo after it was unearthed by the U.S. Army. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to discuss the disposal of several U.S. chemical munitions that were abandoned in Panama decades ago when he visits the country next week.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald, Global Security Newswire
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Rachel Oswald, Global Security Newswire
Nov. 15, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

WASH­ING­TON — How to dis­pose of U.S. chem­ic­al weapons mol­der­ing in Panama — and who should do it — is a mat­ter Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden is ex­pec­ted to ad­dress when he vis­its the coun­try on Monday.

Panama City for years has been try­ing to con­vince Wash­ing­ton to take re­spons­ib­il­ity for the eight un­det­on­ated mu­ni­tions the U.S. Army aban­doned on San Jose Is­land after end­ing its chem­ic­al-weapons test­ing pro­gram there in 1947. Panama’s for­eign min­is­ter re­cently told Mc­Clatchy News­pa­pers a cleanup agree­ment had been reached with the United States, though no of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment on the mat­ter has been made by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“We think this prob­ably will be part of the dis­cus­sions” Biden and the U.S. del­eg­a­tion will have with top of­fi­cials in Panama, a seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told re­port­ers on Fri­day dur­ing a con­fer­ence call.

Wash­ing­ton has been dis­cuss­ing dis­pos­al of the chem­ic­al mu­ni­tions with Panama City since May, said the of­fi­cial, who asked to not be iden­ti­fied when speak­ing about Biden’s trip to Panama.

“This is something we’re re­view­ing right now and have com­mit­ted to resolv­ing in a timely man­ner,” the of­fi­cial said, without spe­cify­ing when an an­nounce­ment on the is­sue might come.

Biden will be in Panama on Monday and Tues­day for a quick trip that is an­ti­cip­ated to largely fo­cus on the ex­pan­sion of the Panama Canal and its hoped-for pos­it­ive im­pact on the U.S. eco­nomy.

Panamani­an For­eign Min­is­ter Fernando Nun­ez Fab­rega in an Oc­to­ber in­ter­view with Mc­Clatchy said: “I have a firm com­mit­ment from the United States” on the plans for U.S. mil­it­ary per­son­nel to sur­vey an area of privately owned San Jose Is­land where the chem­ic­al arms are loc­ated and to des­troy the mu­ni­tions in 2014.

Paul Walk­er, dir­ect­or of en­vir­on­ment­al se­cur­ity and sus­tain­ab­il­ity at Green Cross In­ter­na­tion­al, last month told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire Panama City for years has been quietly press­ing the is­sue with Wash­ing­ton of clean­ing up the chem­ic­al arms. However, he said, the de­sire by the is­land’s private own­ers to dra­mat­ic­ally in­crease de­vel­op­ment of their trop­ic­al para­dise likely pushed the mat­ter high­er on the Panamani­an gov­ern­ment’s agenda.

The well-known chem­ic­al arms ex­pert said the cor­rod­ing mu­ni­tions pose a danger to pub­lic safety.

“People will get killed if they’re not care­ful” with how they ap­proach the un­ex­ploded weapons, which con­tain mus­tard agent and phos­gene, Walk­er said.

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