The United States has stepped forward to help destroy some of the most lethal parts of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile at an offshore facility, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons said Saturday.
The international organization's director-general, Ahmet Uzumcu, said the U.S. government will contribute "a destruction technology, full operational support and financing to neutralize" the weapons offshore, most likely on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea. The weapons are to be removed from Syria by Dec. 31.
The OPCW also wants nearly 800 tons of chemicals, many of which are industrial chemicals regularly destroyed at civilian facilities all over the world, to be destroyed by private companies as part of the organization's ambitious plan to completely eradicate Syria's chemical weapons program by mid-2014.
Uzumcu said 35 private companies have applied so far and are at an early stage of being vetted. He also called on governments of the 190 countries that belong to the OPCW to contribute funds to the effort, or by contracting directly with companies to help destroy chemicals.
The OPCW was charged with overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal under an agreement reached between the U.S. and Syrian ally Russia on Sept. 14. The U.S. then shelved plans for a military strike on Syria's government as punishment for a chemical weapons attack on Damascus on Aug. 21 that killed more than a thousand civilians. Syria's government acknowledged it possessed chemical weapons and committed to giving them up.
Since then OPCW is scrambling to meet ambitious deadlines for disarming and destroying Syria's estimated 1,300-ton arsenal, which includes mustard gas. Syria's production capacity was destroyed or rendered inoperable by the end of October, the OPCW said, and now it is tackling the tougher problem of how to deal with its existing weapons and hazardous chemicals.
An initial plan to destroy the weapons on land was rejected after no country was willing to accept the hazardous waste. The possibility of destroying it in Syria itself was rejected as unworkable amid the country's civil war.
In Saturday's statement, the OPCW said a suitable US naval vessel "is undergoing modifications to support the operations and to accommodate verification activities by the OPCW."
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the ship in question is likely the MV Cape Ray, which would destroy chemical materials using a process developed by the Pentagon but never employed in an actual operation.
Citing several officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to identify themselves, the AP reported the U.S. plans to use what it calls a mobile Field Deployable Hydrolysis System to neutralize the chemical material, making it unusable as weapons. The system was developed by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which is an arm of the Pentagon. Its titanium reactor uses heated water and chemicals to render hazardous material inert.
According the officials, two of the hydrolysis units would be mounted on the Cape Ray under the current plan.
The OPCW's executive council met Friday night and a general meeting of member states begins Monday.
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