NATO, Russia in Talks on Syria Chemical Arms Mission

Despite tensions over Ukraine, NATO and Russia are discussing a joint mission to protect a U.S. ship that will destroy Syria's chemicals.

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Elad Benari,

UN chemical weapons experts in Syria.
UN chemical weapons experts in Syria.

Despite tensions over the goings on in Ukraine, talks between NATO and Russia on a possible joint mission to protect a U.S. ship that will destroy Syria's deadliest chemical weapons are moving ahead, Reuters reported on Thursday.

General Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. forces in Europe, told Reuters and The Wall Street Journal that NATO and Russia were discussing a possible joint naval operation in the Mediterranean to protect the U.S. cargo ship Cape Ray due to destroy Syria's toxins.

"We are in negotiations right now in the NATO-Russia Council and those negotiations are moving forward," Breedlove said, adding that discussions on what would be a rare example of military cooperation between Russia and NATO had not been affected by any tensions over the Ukraine crisis.

The international operation to destroy Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemicals is a joint Russian-U.S. plan that was endorsed by the UN Security Council in September. 

The resolution was a last-minute measure to prevent an American strike on Syria in retaliation for the regime's alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack on a Damascus suburb in August that left hundreds dead.

Syria failed to meet an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) deadline of February 5 to move all of its declared chemical substances and precursors out of the country, but last week submitted a new 100-day plan for the removal of its chemical weapons.

Despite the delays, the first batch of chemical weapon materials was moved out of the country in early January, and a second shipment was removed several weeks later.

third shipment was recently moved out of the country, though the OPCW has said that Syria had only surrendered 11% of its chemical arsenal.

Breedlove stressed that the United States was ready to carry out the mission to destroy the chemicals immediately.

"We are ready to do this mission today, right now. The Syrians need to deliver these chemicals for destruction and we are ready to destroy them now," he said in the interview.

Under the plan being discussed, NATO and Russian warships would share the task of protecting the Cape Ray, which will process at sea about 500 tons of chemicals that are too dangerous to deal with on land.

The Cape Ray is to pick up the chemicals in Italy and needs an escort for its dangerous cargo in international waters.