German inspectors with the OPCW during a training session
German inspectors with the OPCW during a training session // United Media office of Arbeen/AP

WANTED: A Company Willing to Help Destroy Syria’s Chemical Weapons

The organization in charge of dismantling Syria’s chemical-weapons program is rushing to find a country willing to host the destruction of the Syrian stockpile.

Destroying the arsenal, which includes deadly mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin, can’t safely be done on Syrian soil ravaged by continued armed conflict, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which the United Nations chose to oversee the process. The pursuit has been an unlucky one so far, with Albania last week rejecting a U.S. request to host destruction, leading officials to ponder carrying out isolated destruction aboard ships at sea.

So, the chemical-weapons watchdog group has turned its attention from the “where” of it all, and is focusing now on the “who.”

The agency, which won a Nobel Peace Prize last month, announced Friday that it is inviting commercial chemical-disposal firms to bid on getting involved in the demolition process. The offer extends to any private firm in the 190 nations party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms-control treaty excluding only Egypt, North Korea, South Sudan, and Angola (Israel and Myanmar have signed, but not yet ratified, the agreement).

OPCW officials say the firms would destroy 18 types of chemicals in the Syrian arsenal. Many are common industrial substances that pose a danger only when mixed together to create other, more harmful forms of chemicals. Some can be safely rendered harmless and destroyed. OCPW set the price tag of destroying these chemical weapons between 35 million and 40 million euros, or $47 million to $54 million.

The agency did not indicate whether mustard gas, sarin, and other lethal chemicals are included. Still, these chemicals account for about 62 percent of Syria’s 1,300-ton stockpile of nerve agents, which means big business for the private sector. While nations themselves may be hesitant to get involved in destruction efforts, their private companies may not.

But finding private firms to take over the destruction of some of Syria’s stockpile isn’t the problem. Getting their employees into and out of the country in the middle of a civil war, AP’s Mike Corder writes, will be a massive challenge.

OPCW confirmed at the start of this month that inspectors had rendered Syria’s chemical-weapons facilities “inoperable.” High-risk chemical weapons are scheduled to be destroyed by next March, and the entire stockpile by June.

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