Libya Sets Date to Destroy Chemical Arms

Article excerpt

Libya has set a target date of December 2013 for complete destruction of its most potent chemical weapons, according to documents circulated at a May 1-4 meeting on the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

The meeting of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) came days after the date by which all parties to the treaty were to have destroyed their holdings of chemical weapons. It had been known for years that Russia and the United States, which held the vast majority of the chemical weapons that were declared when the CWC entered into force in 1997, would not meet the deadline of April 29, 2012.

In a document adopted at their annual meeting last year, the treaty parties essentially recognized that those two countries and Libya would miss the deadline, but said they should complete the work "in the shortest time possible." The document also spelled out reporting and monitoring requirements for the destruction work, including a requirement for a "detailed plan" that specifies "the planned completion date." (See ACT, January/February 2012.)

Under the regime of Moammar Gaddafi, Libya joined the CWC in 2004. It began destroying its chemical stockpiles in October 2010 and was able to destroy about 13.5 metric tons-slightly more than half-of its supply of Category 1 chemical weapons before a heating unit in the disposal facility broke down in February 2011. Under the CWC, Category 1 covers agents, such as the chemicals sarin, soman, and VX, that are considered to pose the highest risk.

The breakdown occurred at about the same time as the beginning of the protests that ultimately toppled the Gaddafiregime. Chemical weapons destruction has not yet resumed, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said in a May 29 e-mail to Arms Control Today. "The destruction facility has been repaired but additional infrastructure work and security arrangements must be completed by the Libyan authorities before OPCW inspectors can be deployed on-site and operations resumed," he said.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü discussed the destruction program in a May 27 meeting in Tripoli with Libyan Foreign Minister Ashour Saad Ben Khaial, "who expressed his strong commitment that Libyan authorities will continue to closely coordinate with the OPCW on these operations," Luhan said. …