‘Most dangerous’ chemical arms out of Syria by year’s end

US preparing reserve naval vessel to neutralize material; UN official implicates Assad in war crimes.

Chemical weapons inspector in an attack drill 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Chemical weapons inspector in an attack drill 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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.
Category 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.
“We 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 OPCW.”
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 press briefing.
“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 commercial incinerators.
Meanwhile, Navi Pillay, UN human rights chief, was the first UN official to implicate Assad as a director of war crimes.
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 embattled government.
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 killings.
“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.