EU wannabe member Albania is doing its utmost to be a useful partner for the West, so a request from the US to help destroy Syria's chemical weapons on its soil would seem to open up a good opportunity for the new government in Tirana to prove its worth. However, not everyone is happy.
Albania confirmed November 7 it is one of several countries the US has held discussions with about helping it destroy Syria's chemical arsenal of about 1,000 tonnes, which was agreed under a September UN Security Council resolution. The reason Albania is on the list is because it has an existing facility that could be used for this purpose, which was built following the discovery in 2002 of 16 tonnes of chemical warfare agents hidden in a bunker dating from the era of Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. The US, through its Defense Threat Reduction Agency, spent about $45m building an incineration plant in Albania to dispose of the stores, meaning that by 2007 the country had been declared free of chemical arms.
Under difficult circumstances, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it met a November 1 deadline to disable all the country's declared production facilities, but analysts warn the harder task of disposing of the chemical agents themselves by June 2014 is still to come.
"The Americans held an exploratory working brief in early October with Belgium, Norway, France and Albania to see what capacities each might have to treat chemical weapons," a Belgian foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by AFP as saying November 7 , adding that no formal request had yet been made to any of those countries.
Albanian parliamentary speaker Ilir Meta said in a TV interview on Top Channel on November 7 that while Albania has indeed been contacted by the US, "no decision has been made yet... and will be made transparently and will take into account the interest of the country."
Meta added, however, that he doubted Albania has the capacity to do what even other much bigger and more developed countries have so far declined to do. And that seems to be a view backed by other groups in Albania.
Too big an ask
Activists have already taken to the streets to plead with the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama to resist any requests from the US to help eliminate Syrian weapons. "The authorities must not allow the Syrian chemical arsenal to be destroyed on Albanian soil. Albania must firmly oppose such a demand," Saiga Guri of the non-governmental Alliance Against Waste Import told protesters, reported AFP.
The cause has also been taken up by Gary Kokalari, founder of Albanians for a Democratic Albania, which is involved in fighting corrupt practices in the country. In an emailed statement, Kokalari described the request as "hair brained", given the country's inability to demilitarize relatively simple ammunition without seeing 26 people killed in a tragic explosion - a reference to the 2008 explosions that occurred as US and Albanian experts were preparing to destroy stockpiles of obsolete ammunition at an ex-military ammunition depot in the village of GÃ«rdec.
Kokalari also points to the size of the task as being way beyond Albania's capabilities. The US government, he says, is building in a rural area of Kentucky to store chemical weapons that amount to only half the amount estimated to be in Syria, which is an enormous challenge even for the military of the most powerful, wealthiest and technologically advanced country in the world.
"Albania is under no obligation to bend to every outrageous demand made by the US and EU. And the request for Western governments to now dump weapons of mass destruction in Albania is as immoral as it is irresponsible, to say nothing of the grave international security threat this poses to Americans and Europeans by placing these weapons in a country that some consider to have the least effective law enforcement and the most porous borders in the world," he says.
Dan Kaszeta, a former officer in the US Army Chemical Corps now working as an independent consultant, admits in an piece carried on Bloomberg that Albania's position as a poor country with security and corruption issues doesn't make it an ideal choice, but that it presents "the least bad option."
"It might take many years for a facility built to burn 16 tons of chemical agents to get through 1,000 tons. Yet the date of final destruction isn't as important as getting the material in the hands of international inspectors and out of the war zone. That makes Albania the least bad option for disposing of Syria's chemical weapons stores," he concludes.
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