The chemical weapons watchdog tasked with destroying Syria’s stockpile green-lighted a plan Friday to rid the troubled Mideast country of chemical arms by mid-2014.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its council had approved a plan submitted by Damascus to remove chemical substances and precursors used to make arms by June 30, 2014, with the most dangerous elements taken care of by the end of 2013.
Under the plan, the weapons will be transported for destruction outside Syria to ensure their destruction in the “safest and soonest manner,” the group said in a statement.
“The plan provides a clear roadmap. It sets ambitious milestones to be met by the government of Syria,” OPCW head Ahmet Umzucu said in a statement. “This next phase will be the most challenging and its timely execution will require the existence of a secure environment for the verification and transport of chemical weapons. Continuing international support and assistance for this endeavor will remain crucial.”
The announcement came as Albania rebuffed a proposal for the weapons to be destroyed on its soil.
The OPCW says it is still confident it can eradicate Syria’s 1,300-ton arsenal outside the country by the middle of next year. But the refusal leaves open the question of where that will happen.
Russia, which is in the process of destroying its Cold war-era chemical weapons arsenal, has rejected suggestions over the past two months that they could be liquidated on its territory.
The Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said last week that “Russia is not going to do the actual destruction of chemical weapons, but Russian participation is quite possible.”
OPCW-UN Joint Mission Special Coordinator Sigrid Kaag said she was reaching out to other countries to join the effort.
The disarmament operation started more than a month ago with inspections. Machinery used to mix chemicals and fill empty munitions was smashed, ending the Syrian government’s capability to make new weapons.
The OPCW statement says all chemical substances and precursors but isopropanol will be transported by February 5, 2014, with the “most critical” ones being removed by December 31, 2013. They will then be destroyed by March 15, 2014, with the other chemicals being destroyed by June 30, 2014.
Isopropanol, used in creating sarin, is also a solvent.
Last week, the OPCW reported that it had searched all of the facilities in 21 of the 23 sites used to produce chemical weapons, sealed them off and destroyed the machinery used to manufacture these weapons. The Syrians showed videos that documented an additional site being dismantled and sealed off by the Syrian army, meaning that only one facility remains.
This final site is accessible only by routes that are currently controlled by the opposition, thus preventing the UN supervisors from reaching it.
This means that the threat of Syria launching a chemical attack against Israel has all but dissipated. Progress on this scale would have been considered inconceivable only two months ago, but it happened nevertheless thanks to America’s indecision and Russia’s persistence.
Avi Issacharoff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.