STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — Norway is considering a request to take the bulk of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile for eventual destruction, an official said Tuesday.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Ragnhild Imerslund told The Associated Press that the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which are working together to eliminate the deadly arsenal, would like to see the stockpile of chemicals destroyed in one country outside Syria.
"But the best solution for them is not necessarily the best solution for Norway," said Imerslund. She said Norway is refusing to handle chemical weapons loaded onto warheads and ready for use, but is considering accepting mixed chemicals and chemical precursors that can be mixed to make deadly nerve agents.
The U.N. has informed Norway that Syria has 50 metric tons of mixed chemicals in the form of mustard gas and some 300-500 metric tons of materials needed to make nerve agents.
Imerslund said her government is consulting with a working group made up of environmentalists, military analysts, lawyers, and other ministries. Norwegian officials have yet to select a possible site for destruction, a decision which could lead to protests from nearby municipalities and regions.
A recent survey by InFact, a pollster, said 48 percent of the population opposed destroying Syria's chemical stockpile on Norwegian soil, compared with just 30 percent who support it.
Jorn Siljeholm, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, said Norway is capable of destroying the chemicals safely, providing it can be over months or even years. "It is technically feasible for Norway to destroy these chemicals. This is purely a political decision," he said.
Observers said the mid-2014 deadline for the destruction of Syria's arsenal, which was set by the United States and Russia, could also be a problem.
It is "a deadline that would be impossible to meet since Norway at the moment doesn't have any facilities to destroy these chemicals," said Nils Boehmer, a manager at Bellona, a Norway-based environmental group.
Imerslund stressed that Norway would not be forced into meeting any deadlines unilaterally set by other organizations.
Associated Press writer Gary Peach in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.