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OPCW Reports Destruction of 'Critical' Syrian Chemical Gear

Children play on Tuesday with toy guns in Aleppo, a city in civil-war-torn Syria. The United States said there was an urgent need to set a date for so-called Geneva 2 peace talks, despite a leading opposition group's rejection of the process (Karam al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images). Children play on Tuesday with toy guns in Aleppo, a city in civil-war-torn Syria. The United States said there was an urgent need to set a date for so-called Geneva 2 peace talks, despite a leading opposition group's rejection of the process (Karam al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images).

The world's chemical-weapons watchdog on Wednesday said it oversaw the destruction of "critical equipment" at six Syrian installations in the first weeks of a months-long push to dismantle all chemical-warfare materials held by Bashar Assad's government.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported that international auditors eliminated "some" empty chemical munitions in Syria as they visited 11 locations identified by the ruling regime. Assad admitted his forces possess chemical weapons and agreed to their destruction in September, after a nerve-gas attack weeks earlier raised the possibility of U.S. military intervention in the nation's civil war.

"Cooperation with the U.N. in support of [the] OPCW mission in Syria has been excellent and the morale of the joint mission teams remains high," the chemical-weapons watchdog added in its released comments.

Russia, an ally of Assad, on Tuesday said it could contribute additional experts to the Syria mission if OPCW officials requested the support, ITAR-Tass reported.

No more than a few of the country's specialists took part in early disarmament operations, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in an interview.

Moscow sent the chemical watchdog the names of 13 individuals who could join the effort, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said. Roughly 60 international personnel were operating in Syria as of last week, according to an OPCW statement.

Chemical weapons are responsible for a relatively small portion of Syrian civil war's deaths, which the United Nations in July estimated to exceed 100,000 people.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration stressed a need for a planned peace conference in Geneva to include broad representation from Syria's numerous opposition factions. Earlier this week, a major branch of the country's main Western-backed rebel organization said it would not participate in the proposed talks with Assad's government.

"There have been moments where the opposition said they were absolutely attending. So this is a roller coaster," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "We haven’t set a date yet or announced a date for a conference. The opposition and their participation with a representative group is pivotal to that, but we’re continuing to work toward it."

Assad suggested the opposition is too fragmented for peace talks to be possible, the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar reported on Monday.

The leader added that his government's growing missile capabilities help obviate its need for chemical weapons to deter attacks. He said defenses against chemical arms have evolved significantly in the last 20 years, so such weapons are now primarily just useful for inspiring fear.

Assad also complained that the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize last week went to the international chemical-arms watchdog.

"The prize should have been mine," he said.

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