US President Barack Obama’s administration is offering to destroy some of Syria’s deadliest chemical weapons in international waters aboard a 210m, US government-owned ship, US officials said.
The plan, still subject to final approval, would likely involve destroying the weapons, aboard the Cape Ray in the Mediterranean Sea, with US Navy warships patrolling nearby.
This approach would avoid the vexing diplomatic, environmental and security problems posed by disposing of the materials on any nation’s soil.
The US administration has used international oceans in other cases where land-based options were precluded. The US Navy buried former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at sea, apparently to avoid his tomb becoming an attraction for extremists.
The decision to proceed with the chemical disposal plan would be made by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global chemical weapons watchdog agency with 190 member states.
In a statement made on Wednesday in the Netherlands, the watchdog agency said the effort to ship Syria’s chemical arsenal out of the country “continues to pose challenges due to the security situation on the ground.”
No country has committed to disposing of the chemical weapons on its own soil, which is why the US offer to destroy the deadliest of the chemical components at sea is seen as a likely option.
The US officials who disclosed aspects of the US portion of the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it by name.
Jonathan Lalley, a spokesman for the US president’s National Security Council, stressed that no decisions had been made regarding destroying chemicals outside of Syria.
“We and our international partners are pursuing alternative means of destruction, and we will continue discussing with other countries how they might best contribute to that effort,” Lalley said in a statement. “We remain confident that we will complete elimination of the program within the milestones agreed upon.”
The Cape Ray would host the destruction of some of the deadliest of Syria’s chemical materials using a process developed by the Pentagon, but never employed in an actual operation.
The US would 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. The titanium reactor uses heated water and other chemicals to make the chemical warfare material inert, the officials said.