The most dangerous components of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile will be shipped out of that country by the end of the year, and the entire arsenal will be completely destroyed by mid-2014, according to a plan adopted by the international agency overseeing the mission.
“This next phase will be the most challenging, and its timely execution will require the existence of a secure environment for the verification and transport of chemical weapons,” says Ahmet Üzümcü, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Under the plan, the “most critical” chemicals are to be removed from Syria by Dec. 31, with the rest of the 1,300-metric-ton arsenal to be shipped outside the country by early-February 2014.
Where the weapons will be destroyed remains an open question. Destroying the stockpile at sea is a possible alternative to finding a country willing to host the destruction, OPCW says. Several countries have refused to accept the chemicals.
OPCW has divulged little information about the contents of Syria’s stockpile. Paul F. Walker, a chemical weapons expert at Green Cross International, says it consists mostly of precursor chemicals for producing nerve agents, such as sarin and VX, and different types of mustard gas.
“The only chemicals left behind will be about 150 metric tons of isopropanol, which will be diluted with water in Syria,” Walker tells C&EN. Isopropyl alcohol, a widely used industrial solvent, is a precursor for sarin.