Search for Syrian Chemical Host Prompts Muted Global Response

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Oct. 11, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

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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