Germany said Thursday it had accepted a UN request to destroy remnants of Syria’s chemical weapons on its own soil as part of a bid to eliminate the arsenal by June 30.
The foreign and defence ministries said in a joint statement that the move was intended to speed up the scrapping of all of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks and thus advance the peace process.
“The government decided, following a request by the UN-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), that Germany is prepared to make a substantial contribution to the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons,” they said.
“The government is willing and able to destroy in Germany remnants created in the course of irreversibly neutralising chemical weapons from Syria and which resemble industrial waste.”
State-owned company GEKA based in the northern town of Munster will handle the mission “in full compliance with environmental regulations”, the ministries added.
“The destruction of the chemical weapons could be the first, decisive step in defusing the Syria conflict,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
“The international community has a duty to ensure their disposal. No one who takes his international responsibilities seriously should refuse.”
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen added: “Germany has safe technology and a lot of experience with destroying remnants of chemical arms. It is sensible for us to use this capability for the sake of the international community and with it, make a worthy contribution to the peace process.”
Syria’s most dangerous chemicals were meant to have been moved out of the country by December 31. Under a UN-backed plan, all of Syria’s declared 1,290 tonne arsenal should be destroyed by June 30. But the country’s worsening conflict has caused holdups.
Sigrid Kaag, the head of the OPCW, which is monitoring the operation, said Wednesday that the June deadline could still be met despite delays moving the most dangerous chemicals.
“Everything is ready, investment is made and the authorities have shown that first movements have started to happen,” she added, describing the loading of the first chemicals onto a ship in the Syrian port of Latakia on Tuesday as “an important first step”.
On top of battles between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and opposition rebels, a customs strike in neighbouring Lebanon and heavy snow in Syria had blocked the delivery of necessary equipment, Kaag said.
Containers of Class A chemicals from Syria’s arsenal were put on a Danish vessel in Latakia on Tuesday which is now being guarded at sea by an international fleet.
After more chemicals have been loaded, the consignment will be taken to Italy to be transferred to a US Navy vessel for destruction to start.
Kaag said an international tender for companies to destroy lower level chemicals in the arsenal would be completed within weeks.
Britain last month said it would provide a navy ship to secure the removal of chemical weapons from Syria and destroy 150 tonnes of its industrial grade chemicals.
It has also agreed to provide specialist equipment to the United States in the hydrolysis of the most sensitive chemicals before their final destruction aboard a US ship in international waters, the Foreign Office said.
Steinmeier is to join a meeting of ministers from the “Friends of Syria” in Paris Sunday with leaders of the mainstream opposition to Assad ahead of planned peace talks in Switzerland due to open on January 22.