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Syria committed to chemical weapons deal: Assad

Assad confirms that the Syrian regime intends to abide by its agreement to relinquish its chemical weapons arsenal to UN inspectors, against threats of US intervention

AFP , Thursday 26 Sep 2013
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Syria is committed to handing over its chemical weapons, President Bashar al-Assad said, as major powers inched closer on Thursday to a UN resolution enshrining a Russian-US deal.

Assad told Venezuelan television station Telesur in an interview broadcast on Wednesday that he saw "no obstacles" to the deal under which Damascus will relinquish its chemical arms.

Hours later, UN experts left their hotel in Damascus for an unannounced location as they resumed investigations of around 14 incidents in which chemical weapons are alleged to have been used.

Assad told Telesur that his government was committed to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it signed as part of the US-Russian agreement on the destruction of its chemical arsenal.

"Syria is generally committed to all the agreements that it signs," he said in the interview, published in full by state news agency SANA on Thursday.

He said Damascus had begun to send the required details of its chemical arsenal to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which is overseeing the deal, and that OPCW inspectors were expected in Syria.

"Experts (from the OPCW) will come to Syria in the coming period to look into the status of these weapons," he said.

"As the Syrian government, there are no serious obstacles.

"But there is always the possibility that the terrorists will obstruct the work of the experts by preventing them from accessing certain places."

Assad's Syrian regime labels those fighting against it "terrorists."

Syria agreed to turn over its chemical arsenal under a deal thrashed out following an August 21 sarin attack in the suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

The attack, which occurred as UN chemical weapons experts were in Syria investigating previous alleged chemical attacks, was blamed on the Syrian regime by Washington and other international backers of the Syrian opposition.

Assad's government supported by Moscow denies involvement, blaming rebels, but agreed to turn over its chemical arsenal in the face of threatened US military action.

The deal between Washington and Moscow halted talk of a US assault, but Assad said "the possibility of aggression is always there".

"This time the pretext is chemical weapons, next time it will be something else," he said.

Meanwhile, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council made progress on a resolution enshrining the chemical weapons deal, agreeing on the "main points" of a text.

A diplomat said it could result in a resolution that allows for a later vote on sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN Charter if Damascus fails to honour the Russia-US plan.

A senior State Department official cautioned to AFP: "We're making progress but we're not done yet."

And a Russian diplomat said, without giving details, that "discussions were not finished on certain essential points."

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi agreed Thursday on the need for a binding UN Security Council resolution on Syria, a US official said.

But it was unclear whether Beijing would throw its weight behind the language of a resolution currently being drafted.

Kerry and Wang "were in strong agreement" on the need to act quickly for "a mandatory and binding UN Security Council resolution," the official said.

China and Russia have previously used their veto powers as permanent members to block three Security Council resolutions sanctioning Assad.

Russian and US envoys are currently fine-tuning the resolution which both sides want to bring to the Security Council.

But they appear to have hit a hurdle on what kind of sanctions would be slapped on Syria if it violates the resolution.

Asked whether Beijing would back the resolution, the US official said: "I can't think of anything I heard this morning that would provide an indicator one way or another."

On the ground, the team of UN experts led by Swede Ake Sellstrom was in Syria for further investigations into chemical weapons use.

After it was determined that sarin gas was used in the 21 August attack, the team must now try to reach up to 14 sites where allegations of chemical weapons use have been made.

"This will be a very quick mission; they will only be in Syria a few days," a UN official in New York said, without disclosing their movements for security reasons.

At the UN General Assembly in New York, nations have pledged new aid to deal with the fallout from the 30-month conflict, which has killed more than 110,000 people and displaced millions.

Britain on Wednesday pledged an extra 100 million pounds ($160 million/119 million euros) to the humanitarian effort.

In other developments, an Iraqi woman was killed and three others wounded Thursday when a mortar round hit Baghdad's consulate in Damascus, a diplomat said.

He said no diplomatic staff were hurt in the attack, which came after a mortar round hit the Russian embassy compound last Sunday.

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