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Syria urged to step up efforts to ship chemical weapons

Posted by Rattana_S On December - 29 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

(BBC)The global chemical weapons watchdog has called on Syria to “intensify its efforts” to help ship out its most dangerous chemical weapons.

A Norwegian frigate is ready to go to the Syrian port of Latakia to collect the weapons for destruction.

The chemical watchdog said it was up to Syria to mitigate the risks involved in transporting the stockpile to the port.

Syria agreed to abandon its arsenal to avert possible US military action after a sarin nerve gas attack in August.

Under a deal brokered by the US and Russia, the complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment must be completed by the first half of 2014.

The “most critical” chemicals include around 20 tons of the blister agent sulphur mustard.

The arms are due to be taken to Italy, where they will be loaded on to a US Navy ship and shipped into international waters for destruction in a specially created titanium tank on board.

‘Consider all options’

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body overseeing the destruction of the arms, said the logistic elements were in place to pick up the weapons.

OPCW chief Ahmet Umzucu said in a statement that the international community was “poised and ready”.

He said the UN, Russia, and other countries directly involved in the removal had agreed on how to escort the cargo vessels from Syria, after a two-day meeting in Moscow.

Security assets involved in the operation include Russian armoured vehicles, US satellites and Chinese surveillance cameras to protect the hazardous cargo.

Mr Umzucu said Syrian authorities now had to “consider all possible options” to ensure the chemicals’ safe transport from 12 storage sites in Syria to the loading bay in Latakia.

The port lies 300km (185 miles) north of the capital Damascus.

The OPCW earlier said that it did not expect to meet the 31 December deadline for shipping out the “most critical” chemicals.

Shifting battle-lines and road-closures caused by bad weather appeared to be the main causes of the delay.

The OPCW’s head of logistics, Franz Krawinkler said these factors had disrupted delivery of essential supplies to sites where the toxins were being prepared.

The Norwegian frigate left the Cypriot port of Limassol on Saturday.

However, it will not enter Syrian waters until it receives the command from the UN teams in Syria.

The BBC’s Anna Holligan, who is on board the warship, says the crew will conduct military drills at sea while awaiting the order to proceed to port.

Britain could play a prominent role in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons after ministers received briefings from officials on the potential use of facilities at two UK ports to help dispose of Bashar-al-Assad’s arsenal.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is expected to embrace a set of proposals for destroying the Syrian weapons at meetings next week, and it is understood that incinerator facilities at Southampton and Ellesmere Port could be offered as plants to destroy chemicals shipped from the country.

Half of Syria’s 1,300 tonne stockpile is believed to be made up of extremely toxic materials used in making Sarin and Vx gases, as well as a small amount of mustard gas. Those more dangerous chemicals are now set to be destroyed at sea by the US Navy, after public backlashes over the risks of the process forced governments in Finland, Austria and elsewhere to withdraw tentative offers to help.

They will be shipped to a massive specialist US vessel, the MV Cape Ray, where they will be rendered harmless by a process known as hydrolysis, probably while sailing through the Mediterranean.

The rest of the arsenal is made up of chemicals that pose risks similar to standard industrial materials routinely destroyed by commercial companies – and it is those that could be shipped to Brita

Whitehall officials are understood to have been looking at the idea and a Foreign Office minister was briefed two days ago.

“Broadly there are two different types of materials involved. We welcome plans for the disposal of those materials that do raise chemical weapons proliferation concerns and know that the remainder can be destroyed by standard commercial services,” a Foreign Office official said. “We’re keeping an eye on it. Ministers are being constantly briefed on this, particularly as the issue is moving so fast.”

The maritime destruction plan that the OPCW has been forced to resort to for the most dangerous materials is laden with risks.

“It’s not really a waste stream that can be easily dealt with at sea but we can see that it probably has to be done in this way at this stage,” said Paul Johnston, principal scientist at Greenpeace Laboratories at Exeter University. “There will be difficulties with the handling procedures and using sea water for hydrolysis onboard such a large vessel. It would have been preferable to have done this on land at one of the specialist sites in the US and Russia.”

Activists said the government must prepare the public if any part of the Syrian weapons arsenal is brought to the UK.

“The threat from Syria’s chemical weapons may be being dealt with but we need reassurances that treatment and disposal will be safe,” said Paul De Zylva of Friends of the Earth. “Historically, the seas have always been used as a dumping ground – out of sight, out of mind. This shows that they are still vulnerable and we should be concerned about any waste dumping, let alone toxic waste like this.”

But OPCW officials are set to tell the public next week that tonnes of the material is “common or garden waste” that can be destroyed under standard commercial contracts.

The Hague-base body said more than two dozen companies have expressed their interest in destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile after it asked companies to express interest in destroying nearly 800 tonnes of chemicals and 7.7 million litres of effluent, or liquid waste, from the ship.

Timo Piekkari, chief executive at Finland’s state-owned Ekokem, said it was ready to work on the material. “We have expressed our interest to bid on some of the chemicals in the list … that are pretty similar to what we regularly handle,” Mr Piekkari said.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a director of Bio-Secure, a consultancy on chemical weapons, said “needless hysteria” in European countries had tied officials hands, hampering international efforts to dispose of the materials by the end of June. The extremely ambitious deadline was set in a ground breaking US deal with Russia which averted military strikes after an August chemical attack that killed hundreds of people in the suburbs of Damascus, and is supposed to see all such weapons removed from the Syrian civil war.

“Most of this stuff is no different from the materials driven up and down the motorways of Britain every day but there is public anxiety out there that needs to be dispelled,” he said. “Europe has shouted loudly for chemical weapon destruction but has collectively sat on its hands, leaving the US to come in and do the heavy lifting.”

John Kerry arrives in Saudi Arabia to smooth ties

Posted by Nuttapon_S On November - 4 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

US Secretary of State John Kerry has landed in Saudi Arabia, the second stop on his tour of the Middle East.

America’s top diplomat is expected to try to repair ties with a long-standing ally that have been frayed by the conflict in Syria and the recent US outreach to Iran.

He first made an unscheduled stop in Egypt, where he called for an end to violence and a move to full democracy.

Mr Kerry also said the US is committed to working with Egypt’s new rulers.

Egypt is one of the issues that has caused tension between Saudi Arabia and the United States in recent months.

Washington froze some of the $1.3bn (£810m) it gives in aid annually to Egypt when the democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi was ousted by the army earlier this year, while Saudi Arabia has thrown its support behind the new military-backed government.

It had earlier been widely reported that the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, had told European diplomats his country would be making “a major shift” in its relations with the US.

Secretary Kerry is expected to try to smooth over tension regarding Egypt and other issues, including US reluctance to act on Syria, with the Saudi leadership.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly unhappy that peace talks over Syria could lead to an Iran-backed government in Damascus.

Riyadh is also concerned about a US-Iran rapprochement over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Saudi Arabia is an important diplomatic and trading partner for the US.

‘Anti-American sentiment’

Speaking in Cairo before he flew to to Riyadh, he said he would not allow countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt to be “attacked from the outside” – a message which was viewed by some as a veiled reference to Iran.

He also stressed the need for Egypt to move toward democracy.

“History has demonstrated that democracies are more stable, viable and prosperous than any alternative,” he told a news conference.

“With stability comes tourism and investment, and with both come jobs.”

His visit to Cairo was not disclosed by US officials until he landed. It is the first time a US secretary of state has travelled to Egypt on a visit that is unannounced for security reasons.

The BBC’s Kim Ghattas, travelling with Mr Kerry, says it is the kind of precaution that characterises trips by US officials to countries like Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is a sign of US concerns about continued instability in the country, but it is also a reaction to the high level of anti-American feeling in Egypt, our correspondent says.

Spying allegations

Mr Kerry said Egypt’s fortunes, and its bilateral relations, depended on its democratic transition.

He said that the US was “committed to work with” the interim government.

Mr Kerry’s nine-day trip will take in a number of countries in the region and in Europe, including the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Poland.

The secretary of state will also meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss the peace process in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Correspondents say Mr Kerry may have to face difficult questions over allegations of widespread US spying.

In the wake of revelations sparked by leaks from ex-US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, Mr Kerry said last week that spying by the US National Security Agency may have gone too far.

Syria chemical weapons facilities ‘destroyed’

Posted by Nuttapon_S On October - 31 - 2013 ADD COMMENTS

All declared equipment and sites for producing chemical weapons rendered unusable, international watchdog OPCW says.

Syria has destroyed all of its declared chemical weapons production and mixing facilities, meeting a major deadline in an ambitious disarmament programme, the international chemical weapons watchdog said in a document seen by Reuters news agency.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in the document its teams had inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites across the country.

The other two were too dangerous to inspect but the chemical equipment had already been moved to other sites which experts had visited, it said.

“The OPCW is satisfied it has verified, and seen destroyed, all declared critical production, mixing, filling equipment from all 23 sites,” the document said.

Speaking from Turkey Al Jazeera’s Omar Al Saleh said “by November 1, Syria will no longer have the capacity to make new chemical weapons, bringing an end to phase one and phase two.

“Phase three will last to June 2014 and will involve United Nations mission support to monitor all destruction of 1000 tonnes of chemical weapons. The UN has no mandate to destroy them so a UN member state will have to provide technical and operational support.

“But also we have to be a bit suspicious about the second phase as this what Syria declared, and see that other states will agree with Syria on the amount it said it has.”

Under a Russian-American brokered deal, Damascus agreed to destroy all its chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to the killing of hundreds of people in a sarin attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.

The United States and its allies blamed Assad’s forces for the attack and several earlier incidents. The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has rejected the charge, blaming rebel brigades.

Under the disarmament timetable, Syria was due to render unusable all production and chemical weapons filling facilities by November 1 – a target it has now met.

By mid-2014 it must have destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical weapons.