A boat leaves the Italian port of Gioia Tauro on February 4, 2014, which Italy approved as the transfer site for Syrian chemical weapons material to a US ship, to be destroyed at sea
A boat leaves the Italian port of Gioia Tauro on February 4, 2014, which Italy approved as the transfer site for Syrian chemical weapons material to a US ship, to be destroyed at sea © Filippo Monteforte - AFP/File
A boat leaves the Italian port of Gioia Tauro on February 4, 2014, which Italy approved as the transfer site for Syrian chemical weapons material to a US ship, to be destroyed at sea
AFP
Last updated: February 6, 2014

Syrian chemicals no threat to Mediterranean

A planned international operation to destroy Syria's chemical arsenal at sea will pose no threat to the Mediterranean ecosystem, Greece's foreign minister told an EU conference on Thursday.

"Our concerted diplomatic efforts... have given many institutional and scientific guarantees that there is truly no threat to the marine environment," Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos told the conference on hammering out common strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian region.

"NGOs, with whom I am in contact, are in close cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) so that we can be certain there will be no harm to the Mediterranean environment," Venizelos said.

Greece currently holds the rotating six-month EU presidency.

The UN Security Council last year backed a US-Russian deal to destroy Syria's vast chemical arsenal, but Italy and Malta have already expressed concern over the operation's environmental impact.

Under the agreement, Syria's entire chemical arsenal is to be eliminated by June 30, a deadline now likely to be missed owing to the ongoing conflict.

Hydrolysis systems on board a US cargo ship sailing in international waters are to mix heated water and other chemicals to break down the lethal agents, resulting in a sludge equivalent to industrial toxic waste.

"We have received every assurance that nothing will be discharged at sea," Venizelos said, adding that the final stage of the operation will be undertaken on land, "possibly in Germany," he said.

Syria has declared around 700 tonnes of most-dangerous chemicals, 500 tonnes of less-dangerous precursor chemicals and around 122 tonnes of isopropanol, which can be used to make sarin.

Venizelos added that it would be preferable for the operation to be carried out in the Atlantic, pointing to a Portuguese offer to host the operation off the Azores, but he noted this was beyond the EU's power to determine.

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