After what appeared to be a quiet week on the Syrian chemical weapons destruction front, there has been a late surge of news.
On Wednesday, 2 April, Germany agreed to send a frigate with up to 300 German soldiers to help protect the MV Cape Ray. The German government has agreed to lend the frigate to the destruction mission through December 2014 as the American ship completes its hydrolysis mission to destroy the Syrian chemical weapons. Germany has already volunteered to destroy almost 370 tons of mustard agent hydrolysates (secondary waste) in Munster, once it comes off the Cape Ray.
The Syrian rebel forces are being accused of planning a chemical attack. Russia Today alleges that the rebel forces are planning an attack that they will then blame on the Assad regime. There has been no confirmation of these reports by external sources, although Russia did submit a press release at the UN blaming the rebel forces for previous chemical attacks. Nothing came of this statement as Russia was unable to get further agreement on its release.
The twelfth consignment of chemical weapons was shipped out of the Port of Latakia in Syria according to the OPCW. Word of this most recent shipment, the first after almost two weeks of security-related delays, came after Special Representative for the Joint Mission Sigrid Kaag updated the UN Security Council via videoconference on the Syrian mission’s progress. Kaag noted that, as long as the delays end, Syria should be able to meet the 27 April deadline to have all chemicals out of its territory. Currently, 53.6% of the Syrian chemical weapons have been removed from Syria and stored on board the Danish and Norwegian transport ships. According to Kaag, there are 72 barrels of chemicals in three locations waiting to be transported out of Syria; once these barrels are gone, Syria will be rid of 90% of its chemicals. At the moment, however, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power noted that two-thirds of the most dangerous chemicals are still in Syrian territory.
After much cajoling on the part of NGOs, it looks as though the U.S. Department of Defense will finally be doing some outreach regarding the chemical weapons destruction process. According to an email sent from a Gmail account supposedly linked to the U.S. Department of State, there will be a tour of the MV Cape Ray and the hydrolysis system on board the ship on Thursday, 10 April in Rota, Spain before the ship leaves for Gioia Tauro in Italy to receive the chemicals. It is unclear who might be invited to the tour or what information will be provided to those on it. Unfortunately no travel funds are apparently being offered to NGOs, thereby limiting the number of those who might participate.
In addition to the tour, the OPCW is planning an environmental telephone conference call to discuss the destruction process at some point during the third week of April. Green Cross International hopes that more details will be provided within the coming days. It is unclear whether the call will be purely for Mediterranean organizations, or will take larger international organizations into account as well.