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Germany pledges further help in destruction of Syrian chemical weapons

Germany's foreign and defense ministers have announced that some of the waste materials from dismantling Syria's chemical weapons will be destroyed in Germany, saying the process could be a first step towards peace.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had asked Germany for help in its efforts to destroy Syrian chemical weapons; on Thursday, the government in Berlin said it would oblige.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that German company GEKA, based in Munster, would help destroy some of the waste material from Syrian chemical weapons. Until now, Germany had provided technological and logistical support, but only outside its borders.

"Nobody who possesses the technological capabilities required can really refuse," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. "The destruction of chemical weapons could be the first decisive step towards enabling a de-escalation of the Syrian conflict."

"Germany has safe technologies and longstanding experience with the destruction of chemical weapons," Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said, adding that it made sense for Germany "to offer this capability to the international community and to provide a worthwhile contribution to the peace process."

Steinmeier: Geneva talks should include Iran

The Syrian government agreed last September to hand over its chemical weapons and key materials that could be used to make them. The first such shipment left Syria aboard a Danish commercial vessel on Tuesday, slightly later than scheduled, with the delay attributed to a mixture of security concerns and bad weather.

The GEKA GmbH company specializes in the disposal of hazardous materials. The state-owned company was founded in 1997; much of its work involves the safe destruction of materials left over from the First and Second World Wars. The company will be charged with incinerating materials created as a by-product of neutralizing chemical weapons. This process only yields non-hazardous salts as waste products.

Diplomats are hoping to make further gains in defusing Syria's civil war at a special summit in Geneva starting on January 22. Neighboring Iran, an ally of President Bashar al-Assad, was not included in a list of 30 countries invited to the gathering by the UN. US Secretary of State John Kerry had suggested that Tehran take part from the "sidelines," a proposal Iran rejected. Steinmeier, who has just returned to his old post as German foreign minister after one term in opposition, on Wednesday said he thought that the international community "should try to include Syria's neighbors, Iran too."

The UN estimates that since the fighting began in February 2011, more than 100,000 people have died, more than 2 million people have fled the country and many more are also internally displaced within Syria.

msh/lw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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