Inspectors' chief says Syria cooperative on chemical arms

Oct. 10, 2013 at 9:58 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- The head of the international team overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal said Syrian authorities have been cooperative.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said Wednesday completing the work within the "extremely tight" deadline of mid-2014 would depend on whether temporary cease-fires could be arranged between government and opposition forces, The New York Times reported.

"If we can ensure cooperation by all parties, and if some temporary cease-fires could be established in order to permit our experts to work in a permissive environment, I think the targets could be reached," Uzumcu said during a news conference from OPCW's headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands.

Inspectors, supported by U.N. personnel, visited one site and said they would visit about 20 in coming weeks.

U.S. officials said in September at least 45 sites were linked to Syria's chemical weapons program, but the State Department declined Wednesday to say whether the decision by the OPCW inspectors to visit 20 sites meant Syria had not declared many of its chemical facilities, the Times said.

"We will continue to assess the completeness and accuracy of Syria's disclosures to the OPCW," State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday. "As the Syrian disclosure to the OPCW has not been released to the public by the OPCW, we will not at this time discuss its details or our assessment of it."

Harf said President Bashar Assad's regime would be closely watched to ensure it abides by all of the obligations imposed by the U.N. Security Council's resolution and OPCW's executive decision concerning the disclosure and destruction of the chemical arms.

"The fact that just a month ago the Syrian regime did not even acknowledge it had chemical weapons, and now inspectors are not only on the ground but they are overseeing the initial stages of destruction, is a step forward," the spokeswoman said. "However, there is more work to be done. ... It's critical that Syria's declaration of its chemical weapons holdings and facilities be complete."

She said Syria's initial declaration of its chemical weapons holdings and facilities is due Oct. 27.

The declaration is expected to include the full history of Syria's chemical warfare program, providing details on all sites involved in researching, producing or storing its arsenal, the Times said. It also is supposed to present a plan for completing the Syrians' destruction of the arms, which will be monitored by the international inspectors.

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