WASHINGTON — The Syrian government turned over the last of its chemical weapons stockpile to the international community, and U.S. chemical weapons experts will soon begin destroying the deadly materials, according to officials.
The last of the remaining chemicals were loaded aboard the Danish ship Ark Futura at the Syrian port of Latakia on Monday, Ahmet Üzümcü, the director-general OPCW of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said in a press release.
The Assad regime agreed to hand over all its nerve agents and mustard gas last year under threat of American military force. The Obama administration made preparations to attack Syria after evidence surfaced that the regime had used chemical weapons against rebels and civilians. The civil war in Syria continues to rage with no end in sight.
“The Syrian government’s handover earlier today of the final tranche of its declared chemical stockpiles marks an important milestone in the effort to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program. The United States and our international partners will now work to destroy these materials so they never again pose a threat to the Syrian people or America’s allies in the region — an outcome that was hard to imagine a year ago,” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in a statement.
American engineers and scientists on board the MV Cape Ray will use a new, high-tech Field Deployable Hydrolysis System to neutralize the dangerous chemicals at sea. The Cape Ray will depart Rota, Spain, later this week and head to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro, where the chemical stockpile will be uploaded onto the Cape Ray. The vessel is scheduled to arrive in Italy sometime early next week, according to a Defense Department official, who agreed to discuss the ship’s movements on condition of anonymity.
The Cape Ray left Portsmouth, Va., on Jan. 27. The vessel has been moored in Rota since February while the international community waited for the Syrian regime to hand over the remainder of its stockpile.
Once all of the chemicals are onboard the Cape Ray, the ship and its crew will sail into international waters, where the FDHS will go to work. The neutralization process is expected to take about 60 days. Once all the chemicals are neutralized, the resulting effluent will be sent to facilities in Germany and Finland for further processing and destruction. Officials have said that the neutralization process is environmentally sound.
The removal of Syria’s chemical weapons comes at a time when the Obama administration is deploying U.S. troops to Iraq to protect American diplomatic facilities and help the Iraqi security forces thwart Islamic militants who have overrun large swathes of the country in recent weeks. The militants belong to a group call the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is also battling the Assad regime in Syria.