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Experts: Public Needs More Details on Syria Chemical Destruction

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

Students in Gioia Tauro in January protest plans to transfer Syrian chemical-warfare materials between ships at the Italian port city. Arms control experts on Monday urged the Obama administration to release additional data on plans to destroy Syrian chemical-weapons stocks in the Mediterranean Sea. Students in Gioia Tauro in January protest plans to transfer Syrian chemical-warfare materials between ships at the Italian port city. Arms control experts on Monday urged the Obama administration to release additional data on plans to destroy Syrian chemical-weapons stocks in the Mediterranean Sea. (Mario Tosti/AFP/Getty Images)

Arms control experts pressed the Obama administration on Monday to release troves of data on plans to destroy Syria's deadliest chemical arms at sea.

Failure to do so could lead to new political obstacles for the effort to destroy Syrian government's "priority" chemical stocks onboard a specially equipped ship in the Mediterranean Sea, 11 U.S. and European specialists warned in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

"There are already clear signs of discontent and anxiety [about the plan] coming from Italy, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus," the authors said. "Such opposition could clearly delay or prevent the timely and important mission to safely eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile in 2014."

The U.S. vessel MV Cape Ray is expected to neutralize more than 500 metric tons of warfare chemicals after picking them up from the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro. That is after Danish and Norwegian cargo ships, under international military escort, transport the sensitive materials to Italy from the Syrian port at Latakia.

The experts voiced support for the strategy, and said destruction equipment on the Cape Ray would "minimize any potential risks to public health and the environment." They argued, though, that a directed communication strategy is necessary "for the public to be reassured."

During the destruction process, U.S. personnel "should provide daily updates, including any monitoring data of air and water, via a dedicated website," the experts said. "In addition, live, 24-hour webcams onboard the ship should be considered as a confidence-building measure."

The experts also recommended convening panel discussions in Mediterranean nations to address the "technical processes" of the destruction project, as well as its "potential risks and benefits." They called for such events to include both government representatives and independent experts.

The authors added, though, that the "the most urgent issue today is to make sure that all relevant chemicals from the Syrian stockpiles are speedily delivered to the port of Latakia and loaded onto ... Norwegian and Danish ships." The transportation of chemicals from across the war-battered nation has progressed slowly, prompting an international controversy over whether the Assad's government is deliberately delaying the process.

The letter's signers include former Russian Ambassador Serguei Batsanov, as well as chemical-weapons experts Paul Walker, Ralf Trapp and Jean Pascal Zanders. Elio Pacilio, president of Green Cross Italy, joined onto the letter; and Daryl Kimball, who heads the Arms Control Association, and Sharon Squassoni, director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, are among the missive's U.S. signers.

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