BERLIN Germany will help destroy Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons materials as part of an international disarmament program, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday.
The new Social Democrat (SPD) minister said countries with the technical capacity to help should not refuse.
"Therefore we in the German government have decided not to shirk our responsibility and to make our contribution. That means getting rid of part of the chemical waste," he said at a news conference with his Danish counterpart.
"The German armed forces have the technical capacity to do this in Munster," Steinmeier said.
Syria has agreed to abandon its chemical weapons by June after a sarin gas attack last August that Western nations blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Damascus blamed the rebels For the attack.
It has declared 1,300 tonnes of weapons to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which is arranging for them to be destroyed abroad. This week some chemical weapons materials started moving out of the country onto a Danish ship.
Government sources said Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed the move with Steinmeier and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday.
The decision could be controversial in Germany, which has a strong pacifist and anti-nuclear movement and has been reluctant to get involved in foreign missions, especially in the Middle East, since the end of World War Two.
The sources said several hundred tonnes of very diluted materials, rather than chemical weapons, could come to Munster in northern Germany, home to a big army base.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Stephen Brown and Elizabeth Piper)