UN chemical inspectors in Syria 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abdullah)
Will the Cape Ray, the US vessel designated to receive and destroy Syria’s
chemical weapons, suffer a fate similar to the Mobro 4000? Nicknamed the
“gar-barge,” the Mobro sailed for 122 days seeking to unload its
landfill-destined cargo, but was turned away at ports along the Eastern seaboard
of the US and as far away as Belize. No one wanted New York’s garbage in
Today, there are no takers for Syria’s chemical
arsenal. That’s the main obstacle to fully implementing the understanding
reached several months ago when, in response to Secretary of State John Kerry’ s
challenge for Damascus to export its vast supply of chemical weapons, President
Bashar Assad committed to give up the entire inventory.
At the time, it
was considered a remarkable breakthrough in addressing Syria’s increasingly
ruthless civil war. For world powers that could not agree on a common approach
to the crisis, that had seen Russia and China block any meaningful UN action,
there was unanimous outrage over the August 21 chemical weapons attack that left
some 1,400 dead near Damascus.
The agreement to shut down Syria’s
chemical weapons program and to join the international, UN-affiliated watchdog –
the Organization for Protection of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – constituted an
acknowledgment by Assad himself that his country had such weapons of mass
destruction. But he denied and, with the support of Moscow and other
governments, continues to deny any responsibility for the August attack or any
other such attacks identified by the UN. Of course, the UN did not assign
When, per schedule, the Assad regime delivered a list of sites in
Syria for manufacturing chemical weapons, and then the OPCW confirmed that those
facilities were rendered inoperable, Assad received much praise for his
cooperation. But that was the easy part of the bargain. What to do with the vast
supply of live chemical weapons, estimated at more than 1,000 tons, is the much
Five days after Secretary Kerry, at a September 9
London press conference, called on Assad to export all of Syria’s chemical
weapons for destruction, the US and Russia announced an agreement to eliminate
them by mid-2014. Assad had relented, perhaps due to prodding by Moscow and
Tehran, but he did so knowing that his continued cooperation on eliminating his
country’s chemical weapons would be a lifeline for him and his
Thanks to Kerry’s proposition for Assad, the US is now
responsible for ensuring the full implementation of the agreement. The live
weapons, if all accounted for, need somehow to be transported to the Syrian port
of Latakia for export to an as-yet undetermined location.
the details of this evolving plan are worked out, the war continues raging in
Syria, and Assad’s forces continue to kill with impunity. Are they aggressively
seizing control of key highways to open a path to transport chemical weapons to
Latakia? Or is this an excuse to step up brutal violence against the regime’s
opponents, while world powers look the other way?
Rebuffed by Albania,
Washington’s first choice to import and destroy the weapons, the US has found no
other country both able and willing to accept the task. Thus, the US is
considering gathering them on the Cape Ray
, which will be parked somewhere in
the Mediterranean and outfitted with special equipment to eradicate the weapons.
But this kind of operation has never before been attempted on the high seas and,
furthermore, the final destination for the waste collected on the Cape Ray
Environmentalists, scientists and chemical weapons
experts are already raising serious concerns. The December 31 deadline to
begin exporting Syria’s chemical weapons looms.
years ago kick-started the highly successful recycling movement. Perhaps the
elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons will further spur the global effort to
eradicate them. However, will the accord on Syria’s chemical weapons prompt a
serious process of reconciliation and peace for that beleaguered country? Not
likely so long as Assad continues to use all the conventional weaponry available
to attack his own people.
With more than 125,000 dead, millions of
refugees, a polio outbreak and other healthcare crises, a school system shut
down and widespread destruction, the Syrian people are suffering terribly. The
OPCW won the Nobel Peace Prize, but Assad got a reprieve from any firm action
against his regime, an extension on his license to kill.
The US and other
nations have fallen silent. Instead of calling for Assad’s removal, some
US officials now say that, if not actually a potential partner, he may worth
talking to. For Syrians still struggling to survive, the prospect is
appalling.Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of