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Syria sends watchdog chemical weapons inventory

Saturday - 9/21/2013, 7:43am  ET

Secretary of State John Kerry and Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans shake hands after they made statements to reporters about efforts to disarm Syria of their chemical weapons at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

MIKE CORDER
Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- Syria has sent the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons an "initial declaration" outlining its weapons program, the organization said Friday, in keeping with the agreement Russia and the U.S. brokered to have Syria give up its chemical weapons arsenal.

Michael Luhan, the organization's spokesman, told The Associated Press the declaration is "being reviewed by our verification division," but details of it will not be released.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United States and other nations that have joined the chemical weapons organization "will be making a careful and thorough review of the initial document."

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, polices a global treaty known as the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which bars the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical arms. The organization relies on a global network of more than a dozen top laboratories to analyze field samples.

U.S. officials said last week that the United States and Russia agreed that Syria had roughly 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons agents and precursors, including blister agents, such as sulfur and mustard gas and nerve agents like sarin.

In the aftermath of the U.N. report that concluded sarin had been used in an attack in Damascus last month, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is looking at ways to fast-track moves to secure and destroy Syria's arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents as well as its production facilities.

However, diplomatic efforts to speed up the process are moving slowly. A meeting initially scheduled for Sunday at which the organization's 41-nation executive council was to have discussed a U.S.-Russian plan to swiftly rid Syria of chemical weapons was postponed Friday, and no new date was immediately set. No reason was given for the postponement.

Harf said she did not know why the meeting was postponed, but said Syria's initial declaration was a step Washington was seeking "and we'll go from there."

Under a U.S.-Russia agreement brokered last weekend in Geneva, inspectors are to be on the ground in Syria by November. During that month, they are to complete their initial assessment and all mixing and filling equipment for chemical weapons is to be destroyed.

All components of the chemical weapons program are to be removed from the country or destroyed by mid-2014.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons plan of action will be backed up by a U.N. Security Council resolution, and negotiations remain underway on the text of such a resolution.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he talked to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, about Syria's chemical weapons early Friday.

"I had a fairly long conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov," Kerry said in Washington. "We talked about the cooperation which we both agreed to continue to provide, moving not only toward the adoption of the OPCW rules and regulations, but also a resolution that is firm and strong within the United Nations. We will continue to work on that."

In an interview with Fox News Channel aired Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed terrorists for the Aug. 21 chemical attack, which the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children. He said evidence that terrorist groups have used sarin gas has been turned over to Russia and that Russia, through one of its satellites, has evidence that the rockets in the attack were launched from another area.

While the U.N. report did not lay blame, many experts interpreting the report said all indications were that the attack was conducted by Assad forces.

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Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed from Washington, D.C.


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