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OPCW director-general says the Syrian government has so far been cooperative as inspectors continue their work
October 9, 201312:00PM ET
The chief of the world's chemical weapons watchdog said the organization must still visit more than 20 sites in Syria, including some where it may be necessary to negotiate cease-fires before they can gain access, as part of the unprecedented international mission to destroy the country's chemical weapons arsenal.
In his first public remarks about the mission, Ahmet Uzumcu, director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said Wednesday that inspectors have so far visited one site and are about to visit a second, adding that Syrian officials had been "quite cooperative" in the early stages of the mission.
Speaking at a briefing from the Netherlands, where the OPCW is based, Uzumcu said the organization was "at the beginning of a difficult process."
Uzumcu also called for all parties fighting in Syria to be cooperative and establish some sort of cease-fire agreement as inspectors – tasked with eliminating Syria's stockpiles by mid-2014 — continue their work.
"I think the elimination of those weapons is in the interest of all. If some temporary cease-fire could be established to permit our experts in work in a permissive environment, the target can be reached," Uzumcu said.
Uzumcu also said that international experts aimed to visit 20 sites in the coming days and weeks and described their mission to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014 as "realistic" if they had international support.
Nineteen weapons inspectors have already been deployed in Damascus and surrounding suburbs, while 12 others will be joining them in the next couple of months.
Under a Russia-U.S. deal brokered last month, Syria must render useless all production facilities and weapons filling equipment by November. Its entire chemical weapons program must be destroyed by June 30, 2014. Syria submitted a declaration of its chemical weapons arsenal to the OPCW last month, but the details have not been disclosed.
Chemical weapons experts believe Syria has roughly 1,000 tons of sarin, mustard and other nerve agents. Some of the materials are stored as bulk raw chemicals while others have already been loaded onto missiles, warheads or rockets.
The issue of the country’s chemical weapons came to the forefront in the weeks following an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus. The U.S. said that attack was perpetrated by the Syrian government and led to the deaths of over 1,400 people. In September, a team of U.N. investigators confirmed that sarin gas was used in the attack, but stopped short of assigning blame.
The unrest in Syria began in March 2011 and has escalated into a civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, according to the U.N.