ROTA, Spain – If Syria can remove all its ingredients for making poison gas and nerve agent from the country by the end of the month, an ambitious June 30 deadline for destroying the chemicals should be met, a spokesman for the world's chemical weapons watchdog said Thursday.
It remains to be seen if Damascus can remove the chemicals by the end of April. It has taken months to ship out just over half of the 1,300-metric ton stockpile. Overland shipments through the civil war-torn country to the port of Latakia are only happening sporadically.
Under a timeline drawn up last year, the most toxic chemicals were to have been removed from the country by Dec. 31, but that deadline was missed due to poor security and other factors. Syria later submitted a new timeline.
"Right now we have got 17 days left according to the timetable that the Syrian government gave to the OPCW with which they committed to remove their chemical weapons," said Michael Luhan of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. "So if they are out at that time we are confident that the destruction activity can be completed in time to meet the June 30 deadline of the mission."
Luhan was speaking in the Spanish port of Rota, where U.S. authorities showed reporters around a ship, the Cape Ray, equipped to neutralize Syrian chemicals.
The Cape Ray's crew will treat the most toxic material, monitored day and night by OPCW experts. The waste will then be destroyed on land.
A senior American officer stressed that the Cape Ray will not release any chemical waste into the Mediterranean.
Rear Adm. Robert Burke of the U.S. 6th Fleet said the process is designed to ensure no waste escapes.
"The entire unit is self-contained. There are layers of environmental controls that protect the air whilst we are handling the materials on board the ship," he said. "And then the entire process is contained in tanks within the ship, within those environmental controls. So layer upon layer of containment."