SAN JOSE ISLAND, Panama — Even as the United States presses for the rapid destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, a dispute lingers over unexploded chemical munitions that U.S. soldiers left on a Panamanian island more than 60 years ago.
Panama has pressed the United States for decades to remove them, and now it’s optimistic that the Obama administration has agreed.
The World War II-era chemical munitions are known to include phosgene and mustard gas, and may include other toxic chemical agents. From 1945 to 1947, a contingent of U.S. soldiers tested chemical weapons on the then-deserted island, leaving behind at least eight unexploded 500- and 1,000-pound bombs.
A decade ago, the U.S. government offered to train Panamanians to clean up the mess as long as Panama released the United States from liability. Panama rejected the offer, demanding that the Pentagon itself remove and dispose of the toxic munitions.