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UN chief outlines chemical weapons plan for Syria

Ban Ki-moon proposes 100-person mission based in Cyprus to oversee destruction of weapons by mid-2014

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined his plan on Monday for a U.N. mission to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.
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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proposed the formation of a 100-member mission to oversee the cataloguing and destruction of Syria's chemical weapon stockpile, according to a letter from Ban to the Security Council obtained by Al Jazeera.

He said international chemical weapon inspectors and support staff were operating in a "dangerous and volatile" environment and that such a mission, to be conducted in three phases and ending June 30, 2014, was unprecedented.

The joint mission of the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) "will seek to conduct an operation the likes of which, quite simply, have never been tried before," Ban said in his report on Monday.

He said that a team of 19 OPCW and 16 U.N. inspectors has been sent to Syria as part of an advance team but that the overall mission would involve as many as 100 people and would be based in Cyprus.

The joint mission's objective is to destroy Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical arms by mid-2014, in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution passed on Sept. 27.

Russia and the United States acted to disarm Syria after chemical attacks near Damascus in August in which hundreds of people were killed.

Ban said the joint mission would undertake its task in three stages. In the first two, running through Nov. 1, the mission will complete initial inspections and "oversee the destruction by (Syria) of all chemical weapons production and mixing and filling equipment."

In the third phase, running Nov. 1 to June 30, 2014, the mission will "support, monitor and verify the destruction of a complex chemical weapons program involving multiple sites spread over a country engulfed in violent conflict," including "approximately 1,000 metric tons" of chemical weapons materiel, he said.

Ban also said that because neither the U.N. nor the OPCW is mandated to carry out the destruction itself, it was "highly probable" that U.N. member states would have to provide technical, operational and security assistance in the final phase.

He reiterated his support for a political solution to the Syrian conflict, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives, saying an "inclusive and Syrian-led political process" was the only way to end the crisis.

U.S. and Russia "satisfied"

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Ban's comments came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States and Russia were "very pleased" with the progress made so far in destroying Syria's chemical weapon stocks.

Kerry's comments came after he held talks with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic summit in Indonesia on Monday.

"The process has begun in record time, and we are appreciative for the Russian cooperation and obviously for the Syrian compliance," he told reporters alongside Lavrov.

"I think it's extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the (U.N.) resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were being destroyed," Kerry said.

The secretary of state described the first move to dismantle and destroy Syria's chemical arsenal as "a good beginning" and went as far as saying Assad deserved credit for his country's compliance with the Security Council resolution.

In less expansive comments on the developments, Lavrov said he was "satisfied" and promised Russia would continue to ensure Assad's government completes the dismantling process.

Experts destroyed missile warheads, aerial bombs and chemical mixing equipment on Sunday, the first day of the campaign to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, the U.N. said.

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