Security, Environmental Concerns Surface on Syrian Chemicals Plan

Technicians prepare to dismantle a mock grenade during an October demonstration at a chemical-arms destruction site in Germany. Specialists have aired concerns over a U.S. plan to destroy Syrian chemical-weapon assets on a ship in Mediterranean waters (Philipp Guelland/AFP/Getty Images).
Technicians prepare to dismantle a mock grenade during an October demonstration at a chemical-arms destruction site in Germany. Specialists have aired concerns over a U.S. plan to destroy Syrian chemical-weapon assets on a ship in Mediterranean waters (Philipp Guelland/AFP/Getty Images).

A U.S. plan to neutralize Syrian chemical-warfare materials at sea is raising security and environmental concerns, the Washington Times reported on Tuesday.

The United States last week unveiled a proposal to chemically eliminate "hundreds of tons" of Syrian chemical-arms ingredients in the Mediterranean Sea, using destruction gear placed on one of its transport vessels. Syrian President Bashar Assad admitted to stockpiling chemical arms and assented to their destruction after an August nerve-gas attack raised the possibility of U.S. military intervention against his regime.

The Pentagon has said an at-sea destruction effort would pose little danger to people or the environment. But former U.N. biological-weapons auditor Raymond Zilinskas said there has been no formal threat evaluation for the proposal.

"We're all guessing" about its safety, he said. "You don’t know if there could be an accident and how you would handle it."

In addition, the chemical-weapons assets still face a potentially perilous transfer through areas contested in Syria's bloody civil war.

"The probability that rebels are going to attack is very high," Richard Lloyd, a Tesla Laboratories warhead specialist. "They want to get their hands on them."

After arriving in the coastal city of Latakia, the chemicals would be loaded on foreign ships for delivery to the U.S. chemical-destruction vessel at another country's seaport.

No country has yet agreed to temporarily host the materials as they are transferred from cargo ships to the MV Cape Ray, but Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic on Tuesday said his country might accept the duty, the Associated Press reported.

Milanovic warned, though, that the people of his country must first weigh in on the potential role.

"We can take part in the noble project, or we don't have to," he said. "But the Croatian public has to know what it's all about."

December 11, 2013
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A U.S. plan to neutralize Syrian chemical-warfare materials at sea is raising security and environmental concerns, the Washington Times reported on Tuesday.