Options Narrowed, U.S. Is Said to Weigh Destroying Syrian Chemicals at Sea

20 novembre 2013 Non Par Régis Ollivier

The New York Times Middle East By  and  Published: November 19, 2013


WASHINGTON — Unable to find a country willing to dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons, the United States is considering plans to place the chemical components of the weapons on a barge where they would be dissolved or incinerated, according to senior American officials.

The two systems under review are intended to destroy the precursor materials that are designed to be combined to form chemical munitions. Syria’s smaller arsenal of operational chemical weapons would be destroyed separately, officials said.

Officials from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is operating in Syria to locate and identify the weapons, would monitor the destruction, which would be carried out following safety standards set by legislation in the United States and the European Union, according to officials familiar with the proposal. Officials did not say whether any chemical residue would be dumped in the ocean.

The system could be operational in 75 days.

The seaborne options have received more serious consideration after Albania on Friday turned down an appeal by the United States to destroy the weapons on its territory; the decision followed street protests by thousands of Albanians. Norway rejected an earlier request, saying it did not have the expertise or the facilities to destroy the weapons. The issue caused a major political dispute there as well.

Under one plan, five incinerators operating at temperatures of 2,700 degrees aboard the barge would be able to destroy all of Syria’s most serious precursor materials for chemical weapons in less than 60 days. Officials said the byproducts would be harmless salts and other solids.


No American companies, ships or personnel would be involved under this proposal, although officials said it was possible that the American military would help provide security in the international waters where the barge would be situated, whether by assigning warships or surveillance planes to the mission.

The second proposal focuses on a highly sophisticated mobile system developed by the Pentagon, known as the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, which is designed to convert chemical agents into compounds that cannot be used for military purposes by mixing them with water and other chemicals and then heating them, American officials said.

The system, which the Pentagon says can be operated within 10 days of being shipped to a new location, would be used to neutralize the large quantities of precursor chemicals that could be used by the Syrian government to make sarin and other forms of poison gas and thus replenish its chemical weapons arsenal.

Secretary of State John Kerry, according to administration officials, was referring to the two proposals in remarks on Monday when he was asked whether the effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, as mandated by the United Nations, had stalled.

“We are not without other alternatives,” he said. “In fact, we are actively pursuing two other alternatives which provide us a complete capacity to do the destruction and to meet the schedule.”

Mr. Kerry praised the process now underway as “a remarkable event.”

“The chemical weapons of one country are being corralled and moved and contained and placed under the supervision of an international organization which is committed to removing those weapons from Syria by the end of the year,” he said. “And I believe we are on target currently to achieve that.”

Administration officials said on Tuesday that the proposals represented an effective solution to the question of how the weapons would be destroyed once they were removed from Syria.

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