Plan: Syria arsenal inspections by Tuesday

By Mike Corder

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 27 2013 8:31 a.m. MDT

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem speaks during a press conference in Damascus, Syria on Tuesday, August 27, 2013.

The Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The inspectors responsible for tracking down Syria's chemical arms stockpile and verifying its destruction plan to start in Syria by Tuesday. They will face their tightest deadlines ever and work right in the heart of a war zone, according to a draft decision obtained Friday by The Associated Press.

The decision is the key to any U.N. resolution on Syria's chemical weapons program.

The five permanent members of the deeply divided U.N. Security Council reached agreement Thursday on a resolution to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons. A vote depends on how soon the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is meeting later Friday at its headquarters in The Hague, can adopt its plan for securing and destroying Syria's stockpile.

U.N. diplomats say the Security Council hopes to meet Friday evening to vote on the resolution, but that depends on events in The Hague.

The draft agreed upon by Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain includes two legally binding demands — that Syria abandons its chemical stockpile and allows unfettered access to the chemical weapons experts.

If Syria fails to comply, the draft says the Security Council would need to adopt a second resolution to impose possible military and other actions on Damascus under Chapter Seven of the U.N. charter.

Issam Khalil, a member of Syrian President Bashar Assad's ruling Baath party, portrayed the deal as an American diplomatic failure.

"The resolution does not include threats or even possibilities of misinterpretations in a way that would let America and its allies to take advantage of it as they did in Iraq," Khalil said in Damascus.

Nonetheless, after 2 ½ years of paralysis, the agreement represents a breakthrough for the Security Council and rare unity between Russia, which supports Assad's government, and the United States, which backs the opposition.

The diplomatic push to find some agreement on Syria was triggered by an Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb and President Barack Obama's subsequent threat to use military force.

The U.S. and Russia agree that Syria has 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.

A group of U.N. inspectors already on the ground in Syria investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons said Friday they are probing a total of seven sites of suspected attacks, including the Damascus suburb where hundreds were killed last month. That number was raised from three sites.

Even as diplomatic headway was being made, Syria was still wracked by violence on Friday. Syrian activists said a car bomb near a mosque in a town north of Damascus killed at least 30 people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist group that monitors the crisis, said the explosion struck as worshippers at the al-Sahel mosque in Rankous were leaving after Friday prayers.

The war that began in March 2011 has claimed more than 100,000 lives in Syria and has forced millions to flee the violence, according to the U.N.

The proposal being discussed Friday by the OPCW would allow inspectors into any site suspected of chemical weapons involvement even if Syria's government did not identify the location. That gives the inspectors unusually broad authority.

The draft calls for the organization's secretariat to start inspections "as soon as possible and no later than" Tuesday and sets a target of destroying all of Syria's chemical weapons and equipment by the first half of 2014.

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