OSLO (Reuters) - Norway is considering a U.S. request to help destroy Syria’s chemical arms but lacks expertise, equipment and storage sites for the final waste, the new foreign minister said on Wednesday.
Washington asked Norway’s former Labour-led government last month to help destroy some of Syria’s chemical arsenal in a deal brokered with Moscow after an August 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus killed 1,400 people.
“We are taking very seriously this request from the United States to possibly destroy these chemicals,” said Foreign Minister Boerge Brende, whose Conservative-led government took power last week after winning an election.
However, Brende told a news conference there were many hurdles.
Even after destruction, Norwegian law bans storage of such organic waste, meaning other countries would first have to guarantee to import and store the destroyed chemicals after they were treated in Norway, he said.
“If it was to happen in Norway we would have to have an export guarantee from other countries for deposits of the then organic special waste,” he said. “This has to be sent from Norway to another European country which has the capacity.”
The United States has a mobile destruction unit that could be deployed in Norway, which is politically stable, has remote areas far from population centres and large quantities of fresh water that can be used in the process.
But among the complexities, Brende said, “we don’t have expertise in this field and we don’t have the equipment”.
“There are other complicating factors, for instance you know how cold it is in Norway. There is a prerequisite that you have running water” for the mobile U.S. equipment to work, he added.
Norway’s NRK public broadcaster, citing a U.N. document, said the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - as well as Norway, Belgium and Albania, were being asked to help destroy Syrian chemical arms.
It said the request to NATO-member Norway was to take up to half of Syria’s arsenal of more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and precursor chemicals for the production of mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin and VX.
The U.S. request was made after the election in early September but before the new government was formed. The Labour-led government had also said it would consider it.
Brende dismissed speculation that Oslo felt under pressure to help after the independent Nobel Committee, appointed by parliament, this month awarded the 2013 Peace Prize to the Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has been in Syria working to eliminate the stockpile.
“I don’t see this connection,” he said.
Nils Boehmer, of Norwegian environmental group Bellona, said one option was to incinerate the waste, creating non-organic waste that could be more easily stored.
“If they are burning it, it would be easier to store,” he said. He urged greater openness by the Norwegian government about its plans, including possible sites for destroying the chemicals.
Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Alison Williams