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OPCW Drafts Plan to Check Syrian Chemical-Warfare Stocks

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday declined to assign blame for a sarin nerve gas strike carried out last month on the outskirts of Damascus (AP Photo/Seth Wenig). U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday declined to assign blame for a sarin nerve gas strike carried out last month on the outskirts of Damascus (AP Photo/Seth Wenig).

An international chemical-arms-control organization on Monday said it was drafting plans for its personnel to conduct in-person checks of Syria's chemical-warfare assets amid the nation's raging civil war.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's government is required to fully declare by Friday its chemical-weapons holdings, as dictated by a U.S.-Russia agreement for international monitoring and elimination of the Syrian arsenal. That plan, negotiated last week, demands "a comprehensive listing, including names, types, and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities."

"Our experts will verify the accuracy of this disclosure with on-site inspections, and will also assist in putting into place arrangements to keep the warfare materials and the relevant facilities secure until their destruction," the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement. The group said that the Chemical Weapons Convention -- the treaty it is charged with enforcing -- would take effect on Oct. 14 for the government in Damascus.

The 41-nation OPCW Executive Council "is expected to meet soon" to confer on a fleshed-out plan for verifying the declared stocks, the press release says. The materials might be dispersed across up to 80 locations in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

The White House on Monday authorized deliveries of chemical-weapon protective gear to OPCW personnel, as well as supplies of related treatments and defenses to Syrian medical personnel and "vetted" opposition forces.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he wants the OPCW body to decide on a plan before "the end of the week," the London Telegraph reported on Tuesday.

"We'll then be working on agreeing a Security Council resolution over the weekend" to back up the OPCW blueprint, Hague said. "Of course, those timetables might slip but we're looking at days, not weeks."

Russia's top diplomat on Tuesday suggested his country might later consider allowing the U.N. Security Council to endorse a military response to potential missteps by Assad's government, the Associated Press reported. However, Moscow has opposed including a threat of armed force in the initial measure planned by the 15-country body.

Meanwhile, a U.N. task force will return to Syria "as soon as possible" to complete a final report on claims of chemical-weapon use in the country, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters on Monday. The team's initial findings -- made public the same day -- describe strong evidence that a sarin nerve agent strike took place on Aug. 21 in the suburbs of Damascus.

Asked if he had used the report to assign blame for the strike, the U.N. chief said "it is for others to decide whether to ... determine responsibility."

France, the United States and multiple independent analysts described the U.N. findings as strong indicators that Assad's regime had orchestrated the Aug. 21 attack, Foreign Policy magazine reported on Monday. Washington has assessed the incident to have killed more than 1,400 people, and has cited it as the basis for possible military strikes against Syrian government targets.

Russia's envoy to the United Nations, though, said Western powers had "jumped to their conclusions" about the U.N. findings.

Moscow has insisted that resistance fighters have been responsible for chemical strikes in Syria, but Hague mocked that stance. "Even the Russians are not discussing the declaration and destruction of opposition-held chemical weapons because even they don't think they really exist," the Telegraph quoted him as saying.

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