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Syrian chemical arms to be destroyed on U.S. ship

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‘Priority’ weapons have to be removed from Syria by December 31

Dangerous arsenal:Members of the U.N. investigation team taking samples near a part of a missile that was likely to be a chemical rocket in Ain Terma, Syria, in this file photo.—PHOTO: AP
Dangerous arsenal:Members of the U.N. investigation team taking samples near a part of a missile that was likely to be a chemical rocket in Ain Terma, Syria, in this file photo.—PHOTO: AP

The U.S. will destroy the most dangerous of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile on a ship at sea, said the world’s chemical weapons watchdog Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Saturday.

“The neutralisation operations will be conducted on a U.S. vessel at sea using hydrolysis,” said OPCW in a statement.

“Currently a suitable naval vessel is undergoing modifications to support the operations and to accommodate verification activities by the OPCW,” it added.

The ship operation will destroy what is known as “priority chemical weapons”, the most dangerous of Syria’s total arsenal and ones that have to be out of the country by December 31 under an international deal agreed to avert military strikes on Damascus.

OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan on Saturday declined to name the navy vessel to be used. OPCW member states have been thrashing out the details of how to destroy Damascus’ arsenal ahead of the watchdog’s annual meeting set to start on Monday.

A final plan for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons — on land or at sea — is due to be approved by December 17.

Sigrid Kaag, the top U.N. official from the joint U.N.-OPCW mission, confirmed the use of a U.S. ship to render Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons unusable through a dilution process known as hydrolysis, and said the resulting by-products would be destroyed by commercial companies.

“The chemical effluents, what is left when destroyed, will be treated in countries through a number of companies,” she told reporters in Damascus. The U.S. vessel “will not be in Syrian territorial waters”, she added.

The OPCW earlier this month adopted a final roadmap for ridding Syria of its arsenal of more than 1,000 tonnes of dangerous chemicals by mid-2014.

According to this roadmap, the “priority” weapons have to be removed from Syria by December 31 and destroyed by April 2014 and the rest by mid-2014.

The OPCW said on Saturday that 35 commercial companies have expressed an interest in destroying the lower priority, less dangerous weapons.

The watchdog’s director-general Ahmet Uzumcu said the various companies will now undergo evaluation before a suitable candidate is found. Despite international consensus on destroying the chemicals outside war-wracked Syria, no country had volunteered to have them destroyed on its soil.

Syria is cooperating with the disarmament and has already said it had 1,290 tonnes of chemical weapons and precursors, or ingredients, as well as over 1,000 unfilled chemical munitions, such as shells, rockets or mortars.

A team of U.N.-OPCW inspectors has been on the ground since October checking Syria’s weapons and facilities.

The destruction of declared chemical weapons production facilities was completed last month and all chemicals and precursors placed under seal, the OPCW said last month ahead of a November 1 deadline backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution. — AFP

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