BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Individual NATO nations may agree to help implement an agreement on eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons but NATO itself is unlikely to play a role, the head of the alliance said on Thursday.
Russia and the United States brokered a deal last week to put President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arms stockpiles under international control to avoid possible U.S. military strikes that Washington said were intended to punish him for an August 21 poison gas attack.
Under the deal, Assad would account for his chemical weapons within a week and see them destroyed by the middle of next year.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he did not foresee a NATO role in implementing the agreement “but of course individual allies may be willing to, and able to, contribute”.
He spoke after talks at NATO headquarters with the visiting President of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman.
The Czech Republic has expertise in chemical weapons and houses a NATO-accredited “center of excellence” on defense against chemical, biological, radiation and nuclear weapons.
“We discussed the Czech capabilities in that area but we haven’t discussed the possibility to eventually use them in order to implement the (Syria) agreement,” Rasmussen said.
Before nations could decide if they could help destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, they first needed to know the legal framework and basis they would work on and that would depend on discussions under way at the United Nations, Rasmussen said.
“I hope to see a firm United Nations’ mandate that can provide the framework for a complete elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons. When that is in place, I think individual nations will start consideration (of) whether they can contribute to that task,” he said.
Russia and the United States are the only countries with industrial scale capacity to handle mustard, VX, sarin or cyanide-armed munitions, but the import of chemical weapons is banned under U.S. law.
Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by David Evans