The Saga with Syria Nears an End…..Sort Of

A plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons has been announced.

The plan will advance in four steps and involve cooperation from at least six different countries: Denmark, Italy, Norway, Russia, Syria and the United States.

STAGE ONE: Syria’s remaining arsenal will be shipped overland to the Syrian port of Latakia

STAGE TWO: The weapons will be loaded on two ships for transport to an Italian port

STAGE THREE: The weapons will then be loaded onto the U.S. vessel the Cape Ray

STAGE FOUR: The Cape Ray will neutralize the weapons at sea

Approximately five hundred tons of mustard gas and binary components for sarin nerve agent will be transported from storage facilities overland to the Port of Latakia on the northern part of Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

The original plan called for all of Syria’s chemical weapons to be moved out-of-country by the end of 2013. Russia has offered assistance to Syria in completing this stage of the process.

This is likely to be the most dangerous part of the plan since the chemicals will be shipped through an active war zone. Russia will provide logistical supplies and armored trucks for this stage of the process. Given these concerns, Ahmet Uzumcu, the Executive Director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) stated there could be “slight delays” in the plan to rid Syria of chemical weapons by the end of the year and destroy the arsenal by June.

Once the weapons reach Latakia, they will be loaded abroad two cargo vessels provided by Denmark and Norway that will be escorted by two naval frigates.  Russia has also offered to support this stage with a naval escort. “We will be ready to provide Russian navy ships to escort those vessels with toxic agents in order to provide the safety of this operation,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The Danish and Norwegian vessels are expected to transport the weapons to an undisclosed Italian port.  The Italian Foreign Ministry has stressed that the weapons would not touch Italian soil.

The weapons will then be loaded onto a Japanese-built roll-on/roll-off vessel that is part of the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force, the Cape Ray.  The vessel is being leased by the Navy’s Military Sea Lift Command.

The Cape Ray will enter international waters and neutralize Syria’s arsenal using low-temperature hydrolysis.  The ship has been equipped with the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System developed by the U.S. Army.

In addition to the destruction conducted by the U.S. government, three dozen private firms have placed bids to participate in destroying less dangerous elements of the stockpile including precursor chemicals.

In the coming days, the Senate will vote on the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (FY14 NDAA) authorized fund transfers from Cooperative Threat Reduction program authorization for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons in 2014.  OPCW and others originally estimated destroying Syria’s arsenal would cost $1 billion.

As of early November, the OPCW had raised $13.5 million for its work in Syria; according to a Reuters exclusive, it was likely to run out of money by December.  The House has already voted and approved this FY14 authorization.

It remains unclear if the international deadline of June 2014 will be met.