US plays down Albania's refusal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile

Saturday 16 November 2013 15.55
Albanian environmental activists celebrate in Tirana after their country rejected international plans to host destruction of Syrian chemical weapons
Albanian environmental activists celebrate in Tirana after their country rejected international plans to host destruction of Syrian chemical weapons

The US State Department in Washington is playing down the set back of Albania's refusal to destroy Syrian chemical weapons.

It is viewed as a blow to international disposal plans, with a spokeswoman saying that other countries "are seriously considering ... hosting the destruction efforts."

The US government expects that the timelines for the destruction would be met despite the Albanian refusal.

There was no immediate indication where the US or Russia might look next to dispose of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste. 

Faced with the threat of US missile strikes, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September agreed to destroy his entire chemical weapons stockpile.

This followed a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people in Damascus on 21 August.     

Washington said only President Assad's forces could have carried out the attack, a charge the Syrian leader denied.        

The plan adopted by the OPCW yesterday called for the "most critical" chemicals to be transported out of Syria by 31 December with the eventual destruction of chemical materials by the end of June next year. 

Saying it respected Albania's decision, the US said the deadlines could still be met.
              
Still to be worked out is how to safely transport the chemical weapons through contested territory to a port in northern Syria to be shipped abroad.
              
Once the chemicals are safely out of Syria, the pressure will be off for them to be destroyed in the short term. 

Diplomats however are concerned they could be targeted by militants or stolen and sold on the black market. 

Albania was seen as a possible location for destruction since it recently destroyed its own poison gas arsenal. 

Yesterday, Albania rejected a US request to host the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, dealing a blow to a US-Russian accord to eliminate such arms from the country's protracted civil war.

It followed a storm of protest in the country over proposals by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation is brokering efforts to get rid of 1,300 tonnes of Syria's sarin, mustard gas and other agents.

Albania's refusal marked an unprecedented break from its traditionally staunch allegiance to its chief NATO ally Washington and may make it hard to meet destruction deadlines.

Demonstrators including students said their country was being exploited and rallied with ""NO" painted on their faces.

"It is impossible for Albania to get involved in this operation," Prime Minister Edi Rama - just two months in the job - said in a televised address to the nation.

"We lack the necessary capacities to get involved in this operation," he said, following days of growing protests outside government buildings.