TIRANA, Albania — The mission to destroy Syria's poison gas stockpile was dealt a serious blow Friday when Albania refused to host the destruction, but the global chemical weapons watchdog said it is confident it can eradicate the arsenal outside Syria by the middle of next year.
The surprise refusal by the small, impoverished Balkan country left open the question of where the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would send Syria's estimated 1,300-ton arsenal, which includes mustard gas and sarin.
"I can't name a country at this point, but obviously there are options," OPCW official Malik Ellahi said at group headquarters at The Hague, Netherlands.
Syria has said it wants the weapons destroyed outside the country, which is in the throes of civil war.
Albania had been considered the strongest hope, and few diplomats expected the NATO country of 2.8 million people to reject what Prime Minister Edi Rama said had been a direct request from the United States. But the plan was unpopular in Albania, and young protesters had camped outside Rama's office to oppose it, fearing it would be a health and environmental hazard.
In a televised address, Rama said he rejected the request because other countries, which he did not name, were not prepared to be a part of the operation.