Syria vows to abide by U.N. resolution to destroy its chemical weapons
Beirut • Syria will cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors charged with securing and destroying the country's chemical weapons stockpile, the nation's prime minister said Saturday.
The comments from Wael al-Halqi came a day after the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to purge Syria of its chemical weapons program. The U.N. resolution, passed after two weeks of white-knuckle negotiations, marked a major breakthrough in the paralysis that has gripped the council since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.
"This resolution is in line with Syria's approach toward joining the chemical weapons convention," al-Halqi said in an interview with Lebanon's Al Manar TV. "Syria will stand by what it promised. We will cooperate and facilitate the work of the inspectors. We have provided lists with the chemical weapons we have and they can check all our institutions."
The U.N. resolution allows the start of a mission to rid Syria's regime of its estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal by mid-2014. It also calls for consequences if President Bashar Assad's regime fails to comply, although those will depend on the council passing another resolution in the event of noncompliance.
The vote also enshrined a plan adopted by the world's chemical-weapons watchdog that lays out benchmarks and timelines for cataloguing, quarantining and ultimately destroying Syria's chemical arms, their precursors and delivery systems.
The dizzying diplomatic developments of the past two weeks are rooted in the Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb. The U.S. blamed the Assad regime for the attack and threatened to launch punitive missile strikes.
That set in motion a flurry of diplomatic maneuvering that led eventually to Friday's Security Council resolution.
For the first time, the council also endorsed the road map for a political transition in Syria adopted by key nations in June 2012 and called for an international conference to be convened "as soon as possible" to implement it. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has set mid-November as a target date for a new peace conference in Geneva.
Speaking to Al Manar, al-Halqi said the Syrian government is ready to "negotiate with opposition forces both inside and outside of Syria if they're willing to." But he also questioned whether the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, can bring armed groups on the ground to the negotiating table.
The coalition's control over the myriad rebel factions fighting in Syria has always been shaky, but that fact was laid bare on Wednesday after nearly a dozen of the most powerful rebel groups formally broke with it.
Inside Syria on Saturday, rebels including members of an al-Qaida-linked group captured a military post on the border with Jordan after four days of fighting. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group said 26 soldiers were killed in the battle as well as a number of rebels, including seven foreign fighters.
The post, which once served as a customs office before being turned into an army outpost years ago, is on the outskirts of the southern city of Daraa where the Syrian uprising began 2 Â½ years ago. The revolt later turned into a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.
Rebels control multiple areas along the borders with Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon as well as the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Also Saturday, a group of U.N. inspectors left their hotel in Damascus in one vehicle to an unknown location, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.
The U.N. said Friday its team of weapons experts currently in Syria will investigate seven sites of alleged chemical attacks in the country, four more than previously known.
The team initially visited Syria last month to investigate three alleged chemical attacks this year. But just days into the visit, the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta was hit by a chemical strike, and the inspectors turned their attention to that case. The inquiry determined that the nerve agent sarin was used in the Aug. 21 attack, but it did not assess who was behind it.
The U.N. says the team expects to finalize its activities in the country by Monday.