THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS — Members of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog will meet Sunday to discuss how to fast-track moves to secure and destroy Syria’s poison gas and nerve agent arsenal, a spokesman said Thursday.
The executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will discuss the deal brokered last Saturday by the United States and Russia to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international supervision and destroy them in coming months, spokesman Michael Luhan told The Associated Press.
Under the U.S.-Russia agreement, 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.
Both the United States and Russia are among the 41 nations with representatives on the OPCW’s executive council.
In a joint US-Russian paper sent to members of the council and posted on the OPCW website Thursday, the two countries said they are working on sending the council in the coming days “a draft decision setting down special procedures for expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program and stringent verification thereof.”
The OPCW said in a statement earlier this week, that moves to rid Syria of chemical weapons would be undertaken swiftly, in the aftermath of the U.N. report that concluded sarin had been used in an attack in Damascus last month.
Syria is expected to provide a full inventory of its chemical weapons and production facilities and OPCW experts will then travel to Syria to conduct on-site inspections to verify the accuracy of the list.
In an interview with Fox News Channel conducted in the Syrian capital of Damascus and 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.
Assad said his government would abide by the agreement reached with U.S. and Russian officials to give up his chemical weapons. He says he has received estimates that destroying the stockpiles would cost $1 billion and would take roughly a year.
“We didn’t say that we are joining partially. … We joined fully. We sent the letter. We sent the document. And we are committed to the full requirement of this agreement,” he said.
He said Syria was ready to talk to experts about the technical aspects of what he said would be a complicated task. He said Syria was ready to provide a list of weapons and provide experts access to the sites.
Emily Chorley, an analyst with HIS Jane’s who studies nonproliferation, said the U.S.-Russian agreement would be difficult to carry out in a short time.
“I think Assad’s estimate of one year is probably optimistic,” she said Thursday. “Until we really know the full scale of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal it is very difficult to estimate cost and timeframe.”
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed to this report.