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Chemical weapons inspectors outline Syria agenda

| Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 9:12 p.m.

THE HAGUE — Syria's government has been “businesslike and efficient” in advance of meetings this week to lay the groundwork for the destruction of the country's chemical weapons, officials charged with overseeing the effort said on Sunday.

Inspectors from the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said they would arrive in Damascus at midday Tuesday and spend a week in the city before starting visits to chemical weapons facilities declared by the Syrian government. The OPCW officials said the details of the Syrian declaration appeared to line up with external intelligence assessments of what the government possesses, giving them optimism that the regime is being cooperative.

“It's been good business so far,” said an OPCW official, speaking at a briefing for reporters under the condition of anonymity. “So far, our interactions with the Syrians have been very businesslike and efficient.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Sunday that he was committed to living up to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which calls for a ban on chemical weapons possession and production. Under a plan approved last week by the U.N. Security Council, Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles are to be fully destroyed by the middle of next year.

“Of course we have to comply” with the treaty, Assad told Italian Rai News 24 television, according to a transcript of the interview published by the state-run, English-language Syrian Arab News Agency. “This is our history: to comply with every treaty that we sign.”

But OPCW officials acknowledged that many practical and political challenges lie ahead. The agency does not have extensive experience in dealing with governments that do not fully detail their chemical weapons. If another government alleges that it has discovered Syrian chemical weapons that are not in the official rolls, an OPCW official said, the agency would have to refer the matter to its director general and to its 41-nation executive council.

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