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US offers to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons offshore

Naval ship to use new method to neutralize arms

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria’s government will try to move the most lethal components of its chemical weapons program to a port city by the end of the year, and the United States has offered to pick up and destroy the hazardous material at an offshore facility, officials said Saturday.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said in The Hague, Netherlands, that the US government will contribute ‘‘a destruction technology, full operational support, and financing to neutralize’’ the weapons.

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This will most likely be done on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea. The weapons are to be removed from Syria by Dec. 31.

Sigrid Kaag, the woman appointed as go-between for the United Nations and the OPCW on destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile laid out some logistical details.

Kaag said the weapons will be sealed and packaged and then transported from multiple sites in Syria to the country’s largest port, Latakia. Then they will be loaded onto ships owned by other OPCW members before a second hand-off to US vessels.

The weapons and chemicals ‘‘will not be [destroyed] in Syrian territorial waters,’’ Kaag said at a news conference in Damascus.

Kaag said the mission will require international contributions in terms of packaging material, other logistic needs, and special equipment needed to get the job done.

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The OPCW was given the responsibility of overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under an agreement reached between the United States and Syrian ally Russia on Sept. 14.

The United States then shelved plans for a military strike on Syria’s government as punishment for a chemical weapons attack in August that killed hundreds of people, including many children, in rebel-held Damascus suburbs.

Syria’s government acknowledged it possessed chemical weapons and committed to giving them up.

Since then, the OPCW has been scrambling to meet ambitious deadlines for disarming and destroying Syria’s estimated 1,300-ton arsenal, which includes mustard gas and some precursor materials for sarin.

Syria’s production capacity was destroyed or rendered inoperable by the end of October, the OPCW said, and now it is tackling the tougher problem of how to deal with its existing weapons and hazardous chemicals.

An initial plan to destroy chemicals and weapons in a third country was rejected after no nation was willing to accept the hazardous waste. The possibility of destroying chemicals and weapons in Syria itself was rejected as unworkable amid the country’s civil war.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the Lebanon-based TV station Al-Mayadeen Saturday that Damascus is willing to transport the weapons to Latakia but ‘‘we need equipment. We need armored vehicles and monitoring equipment so that terrorists don’t attack these convoys.’’

Asked whether equipment for safe storage of chemicals is already being transported into Syria from Lebanon, Mekdad said ‘‘it will start entering.’’ He added that several countries including Russia have promised to donate equipment.

‘‘We in Syria are ready,’’ he said. ‘‘We are cooperating 100 percent.’’

OPCW said a US naval vessel ‘‘is undergoing modifications to support the operations and to accommodate verification activities by the OPCW.’’

The ship in questions is probably the MV Cape Ray, which would destroy chemical materials using a process called the mobile Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, developed by the Pentagon but never employed in an actual operation.

According to US officials, two hydrolysis units would be mounted on the Cape Ray.

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