Watchdog says Syria poison gas plan still on track
Weapons stockpile could be destroyed by middle of next year despite Albania’s refusal to help, OPCW says
The global chemical weapons watchdog said on Friday it was still confident it can eradicate the weapons outside Syria by the middle of next year, despite the deal being dealt a serious blow earlier in the day.
Albania announced its refusal to host the destruction of Syria’s poison gas stockpile, paving the way for uncertainty over where the deadly arsenal would go.
“I can’t name a country at this point but obviously there are options and there are ways in which this can be accomplished,” senior Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) official Malik Ellahi told reporters outside the organization’s Hague headquarters, according to the Associated Press.
Albania’s refusal came as a surprise after the Balkan country had been considered the OPCW’s strongest hope in the destruction of Syria’s estimated 1,300-ton arsenal, which includes mustard gas and sarin.
The OPCW plan – which followed a deal brokered by the United States and Russia in recent months – calls for the “most critical” chemicals to be removed from Syria by Dec. 31, 2013.
Few diplomats expected Albania, the NATO country of 2.8 million people, to reject what Prime Minister Edi Rama said had been a direct request from the U.S.
But the plan won little popularity among Albanians, with young protesters camping outside Rama’s office to oppose it, fearing it would be a health and environmental hazard, according to AP reports.
Syria has said it wants the weapons destroyed outside the country, which is in the middle of a raging civil war which first erupted in March 2011 through anti-government protests.
Rama, in a televised address, said he rejected the request because other countries, which he did not identify, were not prepared to be a part of the operation.
Ellahi said the close U.S. ally had not explained why it turned down the request.
“It was a sovereign decision that Albania has taken,” he said.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki said the decision would not hurt U.S.-Albanian relations.
“We appreciate Albania looking seriously at hosting the destruction of chemical weapons,” she said. “The international community continues to discuss the most effective and expeditious means for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons program in the safest manner possible.”