The Prime Minister of Albania rejected plans for his country to destroy Syria’s 1,000 ton stockpile of chemical weapons on Friday in the face of mounting protests in the capital of Tirana.
As recently as Wednesday night, Prime Minister Edi Rama had indicated he was in favor of the proposition. “Our ‘Yes’ would be linked only to a plan and agreement that will make it clear to everyone that Albania will come out of this with its head held high” the richer for it and cleaner than it is today,” he said. But
protesters took to the streets in Albania as numerous reports suggested the Balkan nation as the potential destination for Syria’s toxic arms.
“It is impossible for Albania to get involved in this operation,” Rama said today in a televised address to the nation. “We lack the necessary capacities to get involved in this operation.”
Albania was seen as uniquely suited to the task. In 2007, the Adriatic country became the first state verified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to have completely destroyed its stockpile of chemical weapons. The 16 ton arsenal, a holdover from the country’s communist past, was destroyed at a U.S. built incinerator. In Syria, OPCW has cataloged and destroyed the ability to deploy 1,000 tons of chemical weapons from the Assad regime that now must be destroyed outside the volatile Syrian war zone.
The protesters have denounced the potential plan for reasons of environmental and personal safety. Signs carried in the capital read, “No to sarin, Yes to oxygen, let us breathe.” Protests also occurred at Albanian embassies in Washington, D.C. and London.
But not all Albanians had opposed the plan. Dr. Ilir Kulla, international policy expert and Executive Director of the Albanian Diplomatic Academy (ADSH), argued for the idea in an interview with an Albanian news organization. “We are part of NATO. The Syrian conflict almost degenerated in a global war,” he said. “Giving our contribution for destroying the chemical arsenal is a contribution to peace and the environment, although environmentalists are against it.” Albania has been a NATO member since 2009.
The task of now finding a new site in which to destroy Syria’s stockpile will likely prove daunting, given the volatile nature of many of the chemicals and the length of time needed to actually render them fully inert. The United States itself is still laboring to completely rid itself of its chemical weapons that are stored at the Blue Ridge, KY site where they are currently housed.