A complex plan to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons, hampered by the poor security situation, has been finalised, which, once implemented will bring the upcoming talks in Geneva to steer Syria’s political transition into sharper focus.
The plan has all the trappings of high drama — the removal of chemical agents from territorial swathes that are in the throes of conflict — and their transfer and destruction aboard a specialised ship, possibly anchored in the high seas.
The extricated chemical weapons will be taken aboard a Danish ship docked in Syria’s Mediterranean port of Latakia. This ship will then transfer its hazardous cargo to Cape Ray, a specialised American naval vessel that is equipped to destroy chemical agents. The transfer of the weapons could take place either on the high seas or at another port outside Syria, as Damascus will not permit an American naval ship to dock at a Syrian port.
The land transportation of the weapons from the interiors to the Syrian port of Latakia, before they are loaded on the Danish ship is problematic, as parts of this corridor may not be under the government’s firm control.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Sigrid Kaag, the head of the U.N. mission for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, said that “there are factors beyond our control” that could interfere with efforts to eliminate Syria’s 1,000 tonne chemical weapon stockpile by mid-2014.
Ms. Kaag illustrated the hazards of land transportation by pointing out that she had once reached Latakia by flying out of Damascus to Beirut, from where a helicopter took her to the Syrian port city.
Once the weapons reach the U.S. ship, they will be neutralised with a combination of fresh water and other additives including sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite. Consequently the destruction will neither involve any dumping in the sea nor release in the air.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)—the international body geared towards preventing chemical warfare—is collaborating with the U.N. to destroy Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons. Under a timetable that has been drawn, the most dangerous chemical weapons have to be removed by December 31. The entire stockpile has to be eliminated by mid-2014.
As the process of ridding Syria of chemical weapons gets underway, the call for talks to end the ongoing conflict has acquired a sharper tenor. The joint United Nations-Arab League representative on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi has reiterated that Syrians themselves should determine their own future. “In my humble opinion, this should lead to a new, democratic, republican system, non-sectarian in Syria, which opens the door to what I call the new Syrian Republic,” said Mr. Brahimi in an interview with the Swiss public television network.
Mr. Brahimi has strongly the participation of Saudi Arabia and Iran at the Geneva-2 conference that is expected to commence on January 22.