Syrian Update: Week 4

As peace talks continue to flounder in Geneva between Syria, rebel forces, and other world powers to end the on-going civil war, slow progress continues to be made in the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.  The OPCW announced that, on 10 February 2014, a third shipment of chemicals left Syrian territory aboard a Norwegian ship.  (The two prior shipments took place on 7 January 2014 and 27 January 2014.)  In his statement, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu of the OPCW also informed the public that 93% of the Isopropanol has been destroyed and hopes that this will generate new momentum in the process.  However, CNN reports that this still only accounts for 11% of the Syrian chemical stockpile. Meanwhile, people of the Italian port city of Gioia Tauro have continued arguing over the use of their port for the transshipment of the Syrian chemicals to the American MV Cape Ray for destruction.   Some locals are worried about the dangers of the transfer of the approximately 560 tonnes of chemicals, claiming a lack of information, transparency and emergency evacuation procedures.  Others, including trade unionists, hope that the day-long process will re-launch the port as a Mediterranean hub.  Gioia Tauro was badly hit by the global downturn and is known to have a heavy mafia influence; on 11 February, a joint task force of Italians and Americans arrested two dozen ‘ndrangheta and Gambino members in connection to a drug smuggling operation between South America and Gioia Tauro.

The location of the MV Cape Ray has now come to light: the ship on which Syrian chemicals will be destroyed will wait in Rota, Spain until transportation out of Syria is complete.  The American ship, which left its home of Virginia on 27 January, sailed across the Atlantic to Rota, Spain, arriving 13 February and will dock there before going to Gioia Tauro in Italy to receive the transshipment of Syrian chemicals.  In addition to the Chinese, Russian, Norwegian, and Danish ships, naval ships from the German Bundeswehr may provide security to the MV Cape Ray during the destruction process.  Berlin has already offered to destroy the weapons on German soil in Lower Saxony and this would be an additional in-kind offer to the OPCW-UN mission.

The EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has raised Syrian ire by insinuating that the EU intends to release Syrian frozen assets in the EU to help fund Syrian chemical weapons destruction.  She said that the EU “decided to make sure that assets frozen in the EU could be invested into the OPCW fund to help with the removal and destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons.”  The Syrian foreign ministry called this move hypocritical in the face of EU taking a hard line when the regime wanted to use the frozen assets for medicine and food previously.

The OPCW announced on 14 February 2014 that two companies – Ekokem OY AB in Finland and Veolia Environmental Services Technical Solutions LLC in the US – have won the bids among fourteen commercial firms to destroy both precursor chemicals from Syria and toxic effluent from the hydrolysis process on board the MV Cape Ray.