Germany offers help in eliminating Syrian chemical arms
“The government decided following a request by the UN-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that Germany is prepared to make a substantial contribution to the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons,” the foreign and defense ministries said in a joint statement on Thursday, reports AFP.
“The government is willing and able to destroy in Germany remnants created in the course of irreversibly neutralizing chemical weapons from Syria and which resemble industrial waste,” the statement reads.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that the country’s armed forces “have the technical capacity” to eliminate the Syrian chemical arsenal at a state-owned facility in the northern town of Munster.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen added that Germany has the technology and the experience to destroy chemical weapons.
Meanwhile, a Belgian privately held waste management group Indaver is considering bidding in a tender to help destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. The group has formally expressed its interest to the OPCW.
“There is a tender and we are one of the companies that are looking at what is required,” a spokesman for Mechelen-based company said, as quoted by Reuters. “A bid can be made this month but we will only do that after approval of regional and federal authorities.”
The regional government was not immediately available for comment, while the defense ministry also refused to comment, Reuters reports.
However, back in November last year, Belgium ruled itself out as a candidate to destroy Syria's poison gas stockpile.
Syria agreed to the destruction of its chemical weapons through a deal brokered by Russia and the US after a sarin gas attack on August 21. Western nations blamed the deadly attack on President Bashar Assad forces, while Damascus accused the rebels for the incident. The UN fact-finding mission failed to find out who carried out the attack.
Under the UN-backed plan, all of the country’s declared 1,290 tons of toxic agents should be destroyed by June 30. Initially, the first batch of the most dangerous materials was to be moved out from Syria on December 31.
However, the deadline was missed because of the ongoing war in Syria, bad weather, bureaucracy and technical issues. It was only on January 7 that “priority chemical materials” left the Syrian port of Latakia on a Danish ship for international waters. The chemical weapons will then be transferred toan American vessel, where they will be destroyed.
Despite the delays, the UN Security Council expects Syria to meet the June deadline.
There’s a “collective expectation” by the Council that “looking at the end-of-June deadline there’s no reason to assume that a delay will occur, all things being equal,” Sigrid Kaag, head of the Joint Mission of the OPCW and the UN told reporters on Wednesday.
“We also have to remember that Syria is a country at war, the security situation can shift from day to day,” she added, citing recent logistic and other challenges.
Meanwhile, the Syrian government reportedly said that rebel forces attacked two storage sites for some of the deadly chemical weapons components it has pledged to destroy - near the city of Homs and outside Damascus. Bassam Sabbagh, the Syrian representative to the OPCW, spoke about the attacks at the group’s executive council meeting, according to a European diplomat who was present there, cited The New York Times.
Sabbagh did not specify when exactly the attacks took place, but said that they “would have been disastrous if the terrorist plans had worked,” the diplomatic source said.
Moscow plans meetings with Syrian opposition ahead of Geneva-2 talks
Russia plans to hold a range of talks with representatives of the Syrian opposition, including the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSORF), the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
Moscow also said it regrets that the National Coalition keeps setting preconditions for its participation in the Geneva-2 peace conference thus trying to “predetermine” the outcome of the meeting, scheduled for January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland.
The launch of the talks “without any preconditions” is designed for “the quickest cease of violence and bloodshed” in Syria, Moscow said.
The National Coalition, the main Western-backed Syrian opposition group that is seeking to oust Assad, said it will decide if it attends the talks after January 17. Earlier this week around 40 members of the coalition announced they were quitting the group over their differences on the participation in the upcoming talks and the crisis settlement.
A US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that the coalition's indecision would not hinder preliminary discussions in Paris. On January 12, foreign ministers of the 11-strong core group of the Friends of Syria will meet in France with Syrian opposition representatives.
And next Monday, US Foreign Secretary John Kerry will hold talks with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the preparations for the Geneva-2 conference, Psaki confirmed.
Moscow played “a pivotal role in bringing” the Syrian regime to the negotiating table, she noted during a media briefing.
One of the issues that Lavrov and Kerry are expected to discuss is Iran’s participation in the Geneva-2 peace conference. As initiators of the gathering, Moscow and Washington have to approve a list of nations invited to attend the talks.
However, the US opposes Iran’s presence at the talks based on the fact that the Islamic Republic did not sign on to the framework agreed at the Geneva I conference in 2012. Kerry suggested that Tehran could play a sideline role in the Syrian peace talks – a proposal Iran has dismissed.
The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Wednesday that the international community should try to include Syria's neighbors in the peace talks, “Iran too.”
Russia vetoes UN statement on Syria attacks
Russia blocked on Wednesday a UN Security Council statement expressing outrage at the Syrian government’s air strikes and the use of missiles and "barrel bombs" in towns, reported Reuters citing UN diplomats.
According to the unnamed diplomat, Russia put forward amendments to the UK-sponsored statement. The document was to condemn daily airstrikes by the Syrian government in the northern city of Aleppo where it said more than 700 people have been killed and 3,000 injured since December 15.
Russia’s delegation, commenting on the draft statement said it was “unbalanced”.
“Amendments should be made in the draft statement. It should mention the opposition's crimes,” a diplomatic source told Itar-Tass agency. “However, the text's authors disagreed and the draft statement was withdrawn,” the source added.