The United States is in talks with the governments in Iraq, Jordan and Turkey on potentially relocating Syrian chemical weapons to protected armed forces installations on their territory for destruction, the Center for Public Integrity reported on Thursday.
Under the envisioned plan should Syria's Bashar Assad government collapse, the United States and allies would set up over six months to a year incinerating equipment in the host countries that could eliminate the large majority of chemical warfare materials in about a year.
Syria is believed to hold hundreds of tons of nerve and blister agents. Recent reports indicated that precursor materials for sarin nerve agent had been combined and the mix poured into munitions.
Before a plan could be enacted, Syria's chemical arms would have to be gathered together and then trucked out of the country. At Damascus' direction, some lethal materials have already been consolidated for security purposes, bringing the total number of holding sites to under 12, according to an informed U.S. official.
The Obama administration is said to be attempting to persuade Turkey and Jordan to take the lead in securing Syrian chemical warfare materials that are at risk of being stolen or used in the Syrian civil war. The U.S. partner states are to receive thousands of chemical defense outfits and other gear from the Obama administration, sources said. A number of Western states have been instructing Jordanian and Turkish troops in how to utilize chemical agent sensors and protective suits.
Neither Amman nor Ankara has yet agreed to assume a "first responder" role in entering Syria to seize the warfare materials, according to anonymous international and U.S. officials.
It would be too dangerous to attempt to quickly destroy the Syrian chemical weapons with bombs, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in remarks last month in Turkey.. "The kind of plumes ... they create -- exactly the kind of damage that the use of those weapons -- will do on their own."
Safely burning the chemical weapons inside Syria would be highly problematic on both security and operational grounds as Western governments possess only a small handful of transportable machines that can destroy such armaments and then only in small numbers at a time.
Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour on Wednesday said his government is worried about the repercussions for its border territory should Assad seek to attack nearby opposition forces with chemical weapons, Bloomberg reported.
"Of course we have to be worried," he said in an interview. "We cannot take for granted the assertions that Syrian officials are making" that they will never use chemical arms against the Syrian opposition.
Jordan has taken steps to prepare for a feared attack near its border that include bolstering medical readiness. Such steps "could lessen the casualties but they would not safeguard the whole society," the prime minister said.