International experts on Wednesday moved jointly with Syria's government to begin "securing" planned operation sites for a nine-month mission to inventory and dismantle all chemical-warfare assets controlled by Damascus, a key watchdog organization said.
The initial effort focused on "outlying areas," according to a statement released by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. More than one-third of the government's declared chemical-arms sites are in combat zones, Syrian President Bashar Assad's top diplomat indicated recently.
In addition, personnel continued fleshing out plans to fully dismantle the Assad regime's chemical-weapon production capacity by Nov. 1, according to the OPCW release.
"Discussions on the size of Syria's stockpiles are also under way, as well as long-term planning, so that deadlines unanimously imposed by the Executive Council of the OPCW and the U.N. Security Council are met," the group indicated.
Sticking with the nine-month schedule's various components is ultimately the Syrian government's responsibility, but international crews "will provide the necessary technical support to meet these obligations," U.N. and OPCW personnel reportedly told Syrian officials.
"Meeting the regular reporting requirements will be one indication of compliance" by Damascus, the statement says.
Meanwhile, a top international disarmament official on Wednesday said custody protocols would prevent the United Nations from formally considering Russian and Syrian-government materials suggesting rebel fighters carried out an alleged March 19 chemical strike near Aleppo, the New York Times reported.
Angela Kane, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, suggested her organization should not have turned down an invitation from Damascus to visit the Khan al-Assad site alone. U.N. negotiators instead held out for access to other sites of suspected chemical strikes.
“In hindsight, I think I regret that,” Kane said in an interview. "Having conclusive proof the first time when it was really used on a larger scale ... might have prevented [later chemical attacks]."
Meanwhile, the CIA is under orders to provide Western-backed Syrian rebels just enough combat assistance to produce a stalemate that could pave the way for a negotiated peace, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.