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Published: Thursday December 5, 2013 MYT 8:25:02 AM
Updated: Thursday December 5, 2013 MYT 8:25:54 AM

Chemical experts eye port to load Syria toxins onto U.S. ship

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations and the global chemical weapons watchdog are awaiting approval from a country to use its port to load Syria's most deadly chemicals onto a U.S. ship for destruction offshore, the head of the mission said on Wednesday.

Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Syria mission, briefed the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday but did not identify which country she had been in talks with.

The OPCW said on Saturday the United States had started modifying a U.S. naval vessel to be able to destroy Syria's 500 tons of chemicals, including actual nerve agents - neutralizing them offshore with other chemicals in a process known as hydrolysis.

Italy, Norway and Denmark have offered to transport Syria's chemicals from the northern Syrian port of Latakia with military escorts. The chemicals would then be transferred to the U.S. ship at another port.

"We're still awaiting confirmation by a member state that a port is available for trans-loading, so it will be trans-loading in a port," Kaag told reporters after briefing the council.

When asked if the port to be used would likely be in the Mediterranean, she said: "The geographic range is quite significant, so no, not necessarily. At the moment, we're discussing and we're hoping to have early confirmation soon."

The Hague-based OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in October, has been given the task of overseeing destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stocks under an agreement that averted U.S. missile strikes.

It followed a sarin gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus in August that killed hundreds of people.

(The story corrects date of briefing in second paragraph.)

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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