NATO and Russia may share responsibility for guarding a U.S. vessel destroying the Syrian government's deadliest warfare chemicals, Reuters reports.
A plan now under discussion would call for naval vessels from Russia and the 28-nation alliance to provide protection for the MV Cape Ray, government personnel and other insiders told the news agency for a Friday report. The specially equipped ship is expected to neutralize roughly 500 metric tons of chemical-warfare materials removed from Syria's war-wracked territory.
NATO insiders said the arrangement's unveiling could come as soon as next week. They noted, though, that the sides were still determining how to coordinate in responding to possible threats to the at-sea destruction operation.
Some observers added that the United States could defend the Cape Ray itself, downplaying the military significance of the potential NATO-Russian effort.
Still, any shared security operation might prove noteworthy amid current tensions between Moscow and the alliance, according to Reuters. Issues dividing the sides include a dispute over plans to integrate and augment the missile-defense capabilities of NATO member states. Moscow sees the initiative as a challenge to its strategic nuclear deterrent, though the alliance insists its focus is defense solely against Iran and other future threats.
The news service said the operation also might help Russia to deflect criticism of its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. The government in Damascus admitted possessing chemical weapons and agreed to surrender them after sarin nerve agent killed possibly more than 1,000 people last summer in an area held by opposition forces.
Meanwhile, the world's chemical-weapons watchdog agency on Friday said it would hire two companies to aid in transferring, neutralizing and disposing of materials from Assad's chemical arsenal. Contracts for the roles would go to the Finnish company Ekokem and the U.S. firm Veolia Environmental Services, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a press release.