Albania Friday rejected a US request to host the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, in a new setback for the internationally-backed disarmament plan three weeks after Norway also said no.
“It is impossible for Albania to take part in such an operation… as it has no capacity” to carry out such a task, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told reporters.
More than 4,000 people opposed to the destruction of the chemical arsenal on Albanian soil cheered Rama’s announcement, which was broadcast live on giant screens on Tirana’s main square.
Rama said that the United States had asked Albania to “contribute to the destruction of chemical weapons.”
“Our response was ‘yes, in principle’. We are ready to engage in this mission, but we do not have the capacity,” Rama said.
He said the decision was “very difficult.”
In a statement issued immediately after Rama’s press conference, the US embassy said Washington “appreciates that the government of Albania gave serious consideration” to the issue.
“We respect the Prime Minister’s decision… We remain confident that we will complete elimination of the program within the timeline agreed upon,” the embassy said.
Rama’s Socialist-led government, in office since September, had over the past week faced growing street protests over the prospect.
NATO member Albania, along with France and Belgium, had been mooted as a possible host for site for the dismantling of Syria’s entire chemical arsenal, estimated at about 1,000 tonnes.
Oslo last month also announced it would not be able to host the destruction.
Norway and Denmark have however said they will provide ships to take the chemicals out of Syria, with Denmark saying it would also provide a personal protection team for international inspectors.
In The Hague, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) met Friday to approve a final timetable for destruction, according to the terms of a US-Russian deal that headed off US military strikes on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Under a UN Security Council resolution passed in September, Syria’s weaponry has to be destroyed by June 30, 2014.
In 2007, OPCW confirmed that formerly communist Albania had destroyed its own stockpile of Cold War chemical weapons.