A Syrian rebel tries on a gas mask in the northwestern province of Idlib, on July 18, 2013
A Syrian rebel tries on a gas mask in the northwestern province of Idlib, on July 18, 2013 © Daniel Leal-Olivas - DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP
A Syrian rebel tries on a gas mask in the northwestern province of Idlib, on July 18, 2013
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AFP
Last updated: September 27, 2013

Chemical weapon watchdog to discuss Syria disarmament plan

Inspectors will next week begin the process of eradicating Syria's chemical arsenal, with the global watchdog and the UN poised to approve a US-Russian roadmap hailed by US President Barack Obama as a "huge victory" for the world.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' (OPCW) Executive Council was meeting in The Hague to vote on the blueprint, which will be incorporated in a UN Security Council resolution in New York just four hours later.

While the meeting was interrupted to allow "one of the state parties" to consult with their capital, the talks were nevertheless expected to succeed.

The talks were set to resume at 2230 GMT, 90 minutes before the scheduled UN Security Council vote.

"There will either be a meeting tonight or there will not be, depending on whether that state party is ready to go forward," OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told waiting journalists.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has called the OPCW document the "rules and regulations" of Syria's chemical disarmament to be enshrined in the resolution.

The chemical weapons deal is the biggest diplomatic achievement on Syria after more than two years of a bitter civil war that the UN says has killed more than 100,000 people.

Obama hailed the resolution and disarmament plans as a "legally binding" and "verifiable" initiative which threatens consequences if Syria does not adhere to conditions.

He called the initiative "a huge victory for the international community".

He said it could not have been achieved without a credible threat of US action in the aftermath of an August 21 chemical attack outside Damascus, which Washington blames on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a key Syria ally, accused Western nations of blaming Assad without proof.

"The use of chemical weapons is inadmissible. This does not mean, however, that one can usurp the right to accuse and pass verdicts," Lavrov said at the UN General Assembly.

Despite the prospect of disarmament, the UN announced Friday that it was probing new claims of chemical attacks, as fresh violence erupted near Damascus.

A car bomb outside a mosque killed at least 30 people in Rankus, a Sunni town north of Damascus that backs the Sunni-dominated opposition to the government, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons as part of a US-Russian deal struck earlier this month.

The draft OPCW document, seen by AFP, says the watchdog will start inspections no later than October 1.

The 41-member OPCW Executive Council usually takes decisions by consensus, or they require a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

Syria is reported to have around 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, including 300 metric tons of sulphur mustard.

In case of non-compliance with the plan, which sees all Syrian chemical weapons and facilities destroyed by mid-2014, the OPCW will discuss the allegation and then take it to the UN Security Council and General Assembly.

Calls for new peace conference

Friday's OPCW meeting came after the US and Russia on Thursday agreed a draft UN Security Council resolution on Syria's chemical weapons, breaking a prolonged deadlock.

The UN text says that in case of Syrian non-compliance, the Security Council will impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

Chapter VII can allow sanctions or military force. But there would have to be a new vote and diplomats predicted tough talks to persuade Russia not to use its veto again.

Seeking to build on the diplomatic impetus and rare international agreement on how to handle Syria, France called for the major powers gathered at the UN to commit to a Syria peace conference in Geneva.

"I want us to be able to fix a date this evening," France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told journalists.

The conference would be a follow up to a meeting in Geneva in June last year which decided that there should be a Syrian transitional government with full powers.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, also speaking at the UN General Assembly, said his country, Syria's ally and neighbour, wanted to "actively" take part in any new Syria peace conference.

The OPCW document calls on member countries "to provide voluntary contributions" to finance the mission, which Assad has said could cost $1 billion.

The UN has a separate mission currently in Syria to probe alleged chemical weapons attacks other than the August 21 attack on Ghouta, outside Damascus.

The UN said on Friday that the mission was probing at least two attacks that took place after Ghouta.

It said it would finish its work on the ground on Monday, hoping to produce a comprehensive report on its finding by late October.

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