- POSTED: 07 Oct 2013 17:44
This graph is an experimental feature that tracks number of views over time.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can take "credit" for moving quickly to eliminate his regime's chemical arms, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday, after experts began destroying the banned arms.
DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can take "credit" for moving quickly to eliminate his regime's chemical arms, US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday, after experts began destroying the banned arms.
The operation, performed by Syrian personnel supervised by international disarmament experts, comes under the terms of a UN Security Council resolution that will see Damascus relinquish its chemical arsenal.
"The process has begun in record time and we are appreciative for the Russian cooperation and obviously for the Syrian compliance," Kerry told reporters alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Indonesian town of Nusa Dua after the two held talks.
"I think it's extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the (UN) resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were being destroyed," Kerry said.
"I think it's a credit to the Assad regime, frankly. It's a good beginning and we welcome a good beginning."
Syria agreed to give up its chemical arsenal under last month's UN resolution that enshrined an agreement struck between Washington and Moscow aimed at averting US military action.
Under the plan, Syria's chemical weapons mixing and production facilities must be destroyed by November 1.
On Sunday, a statement released by the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said inspectors were verifying details of Syria's chemical arsenal and overseeing destruction work.
Syrian workers "used cutting torches and angle grinders to destroy or disable a range of items", the statement said, to destroy or disable "missile warheads, aerial bombs and mixing and filling equipment."
Syria's chemical arsenal, believed to include 1,000 tonnes of the nerve agent sarin, mustard gas and other banned arms at dozens of sites, must be destroyed by mid-2014.
As the operation got under way, Assad admitted in an interview that his government had made "mistakes" in the country's brutal conflict.
But he again denied that his forces used chemical weapons in an August 21 attack that killed hundreds of civilians.
The assault led to threats of a US strike and eventually the UN resolution requiring Syria to turn over its arsenal.
Russia's foreign minister meanwhile said Washington and Moscow had agreed to push for Syria peace talks in mid-November.
On Sunday, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called on Assad's regime and the rebels to hold peace talks "without preconditions".
Later on Monday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon is expected to send a report to the Security Council detailing the logistics of what is considered one of the biggest and most dangerous disarmament operations ever staged because the conflict in Syria is still raging.
In an interview with Germany's Spiegel magazine, Assad said his government was being "very transparent" with the UN-OPCW team.
"The experts can go to every site. They are going to get all the data from us, they will verify them, and then they can make a judgement about our credibility," he said.
But he also acknowledged that mistakes had been made in responding to the uprising that started as a series of peaceful protests in March 2011 before escalating into a civil war after a brutal crackdown by government forces.
More than 115,000 people have since been killed, activists say. Two million people have become refugees and millions more have been displaced inside Syria.
"Whenever political decisions are made, mistakes happen," Assad said.
"We all make mistakes. Even a president makes mistakes." Although acknowledging that "reality is not black and white", he insisted that "our fundamental decisions were right".
"You can't just absolutely say 'they carry 100 per cent of the blame and we carry zero'," Assad said.
"But basically it's correct that we are defending ourselves."
He denied that he had killed his own people with chemical weapons, saying President Barack Obama "presents not a single piece of evidence. Not a shred of evidence.
"He has nothing to offer but lies."
Meanwhile, Lavrov said Russia and the US had agreed to push for the convening of a Syria peace conference in mid-November.
"We advocate holding the international conference in mid-November," Lavrov told journalists after his talks with Kerry in Indonesia.
"Today, we agreed on the steps needed for both the government and the opposition to come to the conference," Lavrov was quoted as saying by the RIA-Novosti news agency.
The international community has for months been seeking to bring the two sides together for peace talks in Geneva.
On Sunday, envoy Brahimi told France's TV5 Monde that he hoped the regime and rebels would meet in Geneva "without preconditions".
"We are going to Geneva without preconditions," Brahimi said.
"Mr Bashar al-Assad cannot say that he does not want to negotiate with 'X' or 'Y' and it's the same thing for the opposition."