Albania has rejected a US request to host the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, saying it was ill-equipped to handle the disposal of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste.
The announcement by the NATO member and staunch US ally on Friday marks a setback for a Russian-American plan to get rid of Syria’s sarin and other nerve agents deemed too dangerous to eliminate amid the country’s civil war.
Negotiations went down to the wire, delaying scheduled discussions of the plan at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.
“It is impossible for Albania to get involved in this operation,” Prime Minister Edi Rama said in a televised address to the nation.
“We lack the necessary capacities to get involved in this operation.”
Just two months in the job, Rama had faced a growing chorus of opposition and street protests against the request. The decision comes on the November 15 deadline for a detailed plan to be agreed by the OPCW and Damascus.
“There will be no host country in the decision this afternoon,” an OPCW source said. “But they [the US] have alternatives.” The source did not elaborate.
Syria in September agreed to destroy its entire chemical weapons stockpile in a deal brokered by Russia and the US.
Following Albania’s announcement, the US said it respected the decision, adding that it was still confident of eliminating the nerve agents within a timeframe agreed with Russia.
President Bashar al-Assad accepted the plan after Washington threatened to use force in response to a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people in Damascus on August 21.