WASHINGTON – Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons will be destroyed at sea by
December 31, US officials confirmed on Monday.
The vast arsenal of
weapons of mass destruction – forfeited by Syrian President Bashar Assad under
threat of an American military assault last August – are scheduled for complete
destruction by the first week of February.
Syria’s stockpile has been
split into two categories, based on the danger of the chemicals and the ability
of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to transfer them
safely out of a country still embroiled in a fearsome civil war.
one, weapons that include nerve agents, are the top priority and will be shipped
out to sea by year’s end.
The US is outfitting a Navy reserve ship, the
MV Cape Ray, to aid in the international effort. The ship will be suited with a
system called Field Deployable Hydrolysis, a new US military technology designed
by the Defense Department to neutralize components of chemical arms.
have offered and are currently outfitting a US vessel with field deployable
hydrolysis system to support the OPCW’s efforts to handle the highest priority
chemical weapons materials,” a US official said to The Jerusalem Post. “We are
in close contact with the OPCW and our international partners, and remain
confident that we can meet the milestones for destruction set out by the
The December 31 and February 5 deadlines for the destruction of
categories one and two chemical weapons in Syria are set by the OPCW, and not by
the US government.
But the US is committed to their “safe, efficient and
effective” destruction, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday in a
“We made clear we were open to contributing from the
beginning,” Psaki said, explaining that the funding and location of the US
vessel is still under discussion.“This at this point is an offer...the
OPCW and the UN remain the lead coordinators.”
The majority of the
weapons will be destroyed by private firms. The OPCW said last week that 35
firms had expressed an interest in bidding for commercial contracts to dispose
of some 800 tons of bulk industrial chemicals that are safe to destroy in
Meanwhile, Navi Pillay, UN human rights chief,
was the first UN official to implicate Assad as a director of war
Pillay said the UN investigation into the use of chemical weapons
in August suggested that orders had come from “the highest levels” of Syria’s
The UN investigation team compiled secret lists of
suspects and handed them to Pillay for safekeeping, in the hope that one day
suspects will face trial for violations, including torture and mass
“They point to the fact that the evidence indicates
responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state,”
Pillay told a news conference.
Peace talks between Assad and the rebels
fighting for his ouster are planned for January 22 in Geneva, long delayed as
the fighting has continued.
In a television interview on Monday, Iranian
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Iran was not keen on attending the
conference, but is open to participating.
The Iranian government
continues to support the Assad regime.
“They have not endorsed the Geneva
communique. That’s a condition we feel is necessary,” Psaki said on
Monday of Iran’s possible attendance. “That is what the goal and the purpose of
the conference is.”
Reuters contributed to this report.