Earlier this week, United Nations inspectors released a report confirming that chemical weapons had been used against people in Syria. The inspectors were barred from stating whether the government or opposition fighters were responsible for the attacks, according to the Associated Press.
In the largest documented attack, blood and urine samples from patients, along with video, confirmed that sarin gas was used to kill around 1,400 people, including children, in the Ghouta region of Syria in August, the AP reported.
However, just a month later, Syria’s government agreed to become the 190th nation to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, agreeing to work with the international community to eliminate its chemical stockpile.
This same treaty requires the United States to destroy its chemical weapons, including the 523 tons of nerve and blister agent stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot. The plant designed to neutralize these rounds is 75 percent complete, officials said this week.
Craig Williams, co-chair of Madison County’s Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board and director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation’s Chemical Weapons Project, took part in discussions earlier this month at The Hague, Netherlands, about ways to quickly and safely remove the chemical stockpile from war-torn Syria.
Williams presented information from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons conference at Tuesday’s quarterly meeting of the advisory board at Eastern Kentucky University.
The OPCW has set Feb. 5 as the deadline for removing all chemicals from Syria.
“How that’s going to happen and where it’s going to go is interesting, considering there’s a civil war going on,” Williams said.
Williams added that the Syrian government and inspectors report that the chemicals are not weaponized, meaning they are being stored in bulk containers, not rockets.
The U.S. government will not provide military personnel to facilitate the removal, and Williams said while there are several ideas on how to get the chemicals out, right now, the method is “up in the air.”
However, a senior Russian diplomat said in a state media report Friday that Moscow will help transport Syrian chemical weapons to a port in the country where they can be placed aboard ships, according to the AP.
Once shipped out of the country, the chemicals will be neutralized aboard a bulk carrier called the MV Cape Ray, Williams said. The ship’s personnel will use equipment that employs the same method of neutralization that will be used to destroy the Blue Grass Army Depot’s stockpile. The goal is to have Syria’s stockpile destroyed by mid-2014.
When asked what would happen if Syria used the chemical weapons against its population after entering into the treaty, Williams said OPCW sanctions would be swift and possibly involve military action.