Getting Syria's Chemical Weapons Out Of Country Won't Be Not Easy
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block.
The deadline is fast approaching for Syria to be cleared of its chemical weapons stockpiles. And the group in charge of that destruction, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, is laying out a plan for just how to get those stockpiles out of the country so they can be neutralized on ships.
Julian Borger writes about this in today's Guardian newspaper. He calls it a delicate and unprecedented operation. And he joins me now to talk about how it might work. Welcome to the program.
JULIAN BORGER: Pleasure to be here.
BLOCK: So why are they going to be doing this on ships, in the first place?
BORGER: Well, mainly because no other country wanted it done on their territory. Norway said no thank you, as did Albania. So the U.S., as the prime mover and sponsorer of this whole process, eventually had to step in and to suggest this as way out of the empire's doing it, on ships with specialized mobile equipment so that it wasn't a matter of any other country's national sovereignty.
BLOCK: OK. Well, the plan as you describe it in the Guardian today involves, first, a Danish ship that would come to the Syria coast and then transfer of the chemical weapons to a U.S. vessel, the MV Cape Ray. Why don't you walk through how that would work?
BORGER: Well, the Danish ship would dock at Latakia, which is the Syrian border on the Mediterranean. The containers with the chemical weapons inside would be loaded on, and then that would leave Syrian waters. And then one of two things can happen. Either it's done - the transfer is done on dry land with the two ships docking and making the transfer that way.
Or if no port agrees to that, which is a challenge, then it would have to be done on the high seas with both (unintelligible) boats which are roll-on-roll-off cargo containers backing into each other and making the exchange of the chemical weapons across the bows.
BLOCK: Well, once the chemical weapons are transferred to the U.S. vessel, to the MV Cape Ray, what happens then?
BORGER: Well, there are these two mobile reactors - hydrolysis reactors - that are on board. And the chemicals, which include nerve agents like sarin and VX, would be taken from their containers and piped into these reactors, straight into the reactors. And then reagents would be added, most importantly water, in the case of the nerve agents, but also some other chemicals that will neutralize the toxicity of the chemical weapons.
And then the effluent from that chemical reaction is pumped to a number of containers that will be below decks - on lower decks. They've got 180 of these altogether, and these will store the effluent. But the whole procedure will be self-contained and will be hermetically sealed. There will be no liquid or gas emissions, the OPCW says. So there is no - they claim no threat to the environment wherever they do this.
And this will almost certainly be done on the high seas, and they'll have to be calm seas. But they'll be on the high seas so that no one's national territory is involved.
BLOCK: You know, your description of this as a delicate operation seems really an understatement when you think about how vulnerable this process would be at any stage of this transfer: getting them to the port, transferring weapons to the ships, transferring from one ship to the other, and then sitting there for a month at a time while this is being done.
BORGER: Yeah, it is enormously dangerous if you think of the possibility of anyone getting to these chemicals, because they are extremely lethal chemicals. And obviously the most dangerous moment comes now, coming up in the next few days when they start to move the containers of chemicals over land, from Homs and Damascus towards Latakia, the Mediterranean port where they will be loaded on the Danish ship.
That will be the really vulnerable moment because, of course, there are all sorts of actors out there, all sorts of players in the Syrian conflict, not all of whom will be signed up to this process.
BLOCK: Julian Borger is diplomatic editor of The Guardian. Mr. Borger, thank you so much.
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