THE HAGUE/BEIRUT – Syria handed in an “initial declaration” outlining its chemical weapons programme to the UN-backed Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arms watchdog at the Hague Friday.
Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the chemical weapons watchdog, told The Associated Press that the declaration is “being reviewed by our verification division.”
The organization will not release details of what is in the declaration.
On Friday, the OPCW posted a “joint national paper” on its website that says the U.S. and Russia are committing “to prepare and submit in the next few days to the Executive Council of the OPCW a draft decision setting down special procedures for expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program and stringent verification thereof.”
Reuters news agency quoted an OPCW spokesman as saying, “We have received part of the verification, and we expect more.”
A U.N. diplomat said the Syrian document is “quite long” and is being translated from Arabic.
Syria agreed to transfer its chemical weapons stockpiles for destruction under a U.S.-Russian accord aimed at averting a U.S. military strike against Syria.
The United States estimates that Syria has more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical toxins and blames the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the Aug. 21 attack, which U.S. officials say killed more than 1,400 people.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed hard Thursday for international action in Syria in the wake of last month’s chemical weapons attack, saying “the U.N. Security Council must be prepared to act next week” given a report he says shows Syria’s government is culpable.
Speaking ahead of next week’s U.N. General Assembly, in which world leaders and diplomats convene in New York, U.S., John Kerry said “the complete removal of Syria’s chemical weapons is possible here, through peaceful means.” But urgency is needed, he added, saying, “Time is short. Let’s not spend time debating what we already know.”
“This fight about Syria’s chemical weapons is not a game,” Kerry told reporters. “It’s real.”
The OPCW’s 41-nation executive council had been scheduled to meet Sunday to discuss ways to implement the U.S.-Russian disarmament proposal. But the meeting was postponed Friday without any explanation, and no new date was given.
According to reports Thursday, extremist factions in the opposition notched a significant victory by defeating a brigade of the more secular and U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army in the northern town of Azaz, a key rebel supply route near the border with Turkey.
Analysts say that since early this year, some Sunni Muslim extremist groups in the opposition have been retreating from the front lines to the rebel-held northern and eastern parts of Syria, where they have turned their attention to governance, reports Washington Times.
But in doing so, they angered the local populations through a campaign of violence, including reported executions of children, attacks on Christians and rape of boys.
As a result, fighting has broken out between more secular elements of the opposition and the hard-liners.
“The rift between these two groups has always been there, but early on in the conflict, the more extremist groups had very little power,” said Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.