Albania rejects taking in Syria's toxic chemical weapons

Nov. 15, 2013 at 3:38 PM
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THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Progress destroying Syria's chemical arms has been good, but more work needs to be done, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons heard Friday.

Meanwhile, Albanian officials rejected a U.S. request to allow Syria's chemical weapons be destroyed within its borders Friday, the second country to refuse the request.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama's decision followed several days of protests by activists in Tirana who opposed accepting Syria's chemical weapons because of environmental and security concerns, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The international watchdog agency spearheading the disarmament effort called for the weapons to be destroyed outside war-torn Syria, but no country has volunteered to host the effort.

Norway was the first country to turn down the U.S. request.

During the OPCW meeting at The Hague, Netherlands, Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the joint OPCW-United Nations mission overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, called the progress "heartening," but added, "substantial work remains to be done, and a number of challenges lie ahead."

At the end of October, the joint mission confirmed the Syrian government destroyed critical chemical weapons production equipment, meeting a deadline set by the OPCW Executive Council to complete the destruction Nov. 1, the United Nations said in a release.

The next step is for the OPCW executive council to approve a detailed plan of destruction submitted by Syria to eliminate its stockpile, with the goal of eliminating the country's chemical weapons material and equipment by June 30, 2014.

"We look to member states that have influence with all actors to support the joint mission in the successful fulfillment of its mandate, through their lines of formal and informal communication," Kaag said. "This is an opportunity to advance the global disarmament and non-proliferation agenda, and to remove forever the risk that these horrific weapons of mass destruction pose to the people of Syria."

Syria agreed to a plan to destroy its production facilities and stockpiles as President Obama threatened military action after a chemical weapons attack Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb killed hundreds of people. The United States said President Bashar Assad's forces were responsible, but Syrian authorities blamed the attack on rebels.

In late October, Syria presented OPCW its formal initial declaration about its chemical weapons program. At the time the organization said the declarations would be the basis upon which plans would be developed for a "systematic, total and verified destruction of declared chemical weapons and production facilities."

The New York Times reported last week that international chemical weapons inspectors in Syria verified destruction of 22 of the 23 sites the Syrian government declared had been used for the production and mixing of the toxic arms.

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