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Chemical-Disarmers Air Guarded Optimism on Syria as Work Starts

A U.N. vehicle departs from a Damascus hotel on Thursday. An international team on Friday prepared to begin eliminating Syrian chemical-weapon assets (Louai Beshara/Getty Images). A U.N. vehicle departs from a Damascus hotel on Thursday. An international team on Friday prepared to begin eliminating Syrian chemical-weapon assets (Louai Beshara/Getty Images).

Technical crews on Friday prepared to begin eliminating Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical-warfare capabilities, following the conclusion of government consultations about which an international watchdog said it is cautiously optimistic, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Documents handed over [on Wednesday] by the Syrian government look promising, according to team members," the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a Thursday statement. However, "further analysis, particularly of technical diagrams, will be necessary and some more questions remain to be answered."

Disarmament workers next week could begin traveling to chemical-weapon facilities to disable gear, according to the OPCW press release. The timing, though, would depend on developments within three subgroups charged with confirming chemical-arms declarations by Damascus, protecting auditors in the field and making "practical arrangements" to inventory and dismantle the Syrian government's full chemical-warfare stockpile by the middle of next year. The group faces an initial Nov. 1 deadline to eliminate the Assad regime's chemical-weapon production capacity.

In remarks aired on Friday, Assad continued to deny that his government was behind an Aug. 21 sarin-gas strike believed to have killed over 1,400 people, AFP reported.

Any use of the regime's chemical weapons would require high-level authorization, he told the Turkish television channel Halk TV.

"Preparing these weapons is a complex technical operation, [and] requires a central order from the army chief of staff," he said. "As a result it is impossible that they were used."

A senior Russian diplomat on Thursday said "it will not be easy to get to the places where chemical weapons or some components are located," ITAR-Tass reported.

"Chemical arsenals are under control of the Syrian government, but I think not all of them," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov added.

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