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Diplomatic Rift Emerges on Next Steps for Syria Chemical Disarmers

Children pose for a photograph on a Syrian army vehicle in the town of Maalula on Sunday. Governments are in disagreement about the future of an international mission to remove chemical weapons from Syria. Children pose for a photograph on a Syrian army vehicle in the town of Maalula on Sunday. Governments are in disagreement about the future of an international mission to remove chemical weapons from Syria. (Rim Haddad/AFP/Getty Images)

World powers differ over the future of an international disarmament team now helping to remove Syria's final declared chemical weapons, Reuters reports.

The United Kingdom's U.N. envoy said the group -- formed by the United Nations and the world's chemical-arms watchdog -- should remain in place to help ensure President Bashar Assad has surrendered his full stockpile and dismantled all related facilities, the news agency said on Wednesday.

Bashar Jaafari, Assad's top delegate to the United Nations, countered that the mission should disband after the government sends its final reported stocks abroad for destruction. Assad's regime agreed to surrender roughly 1,300 tons of chemical warfare materials after sarin nerve agent killed hundreds of people in a Damascus neighborhood last August, fomenting threats of foreign intervention in Syria's civil war.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the U.N. Security Council established no date for the joint operation to dissolve, which would prevent Russia from ending the dispute in Assad's favor.

Western envoys in New York, though, suggested the dispute could still pit their governments against Assad's regime and its Moscow ally.

Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu, the Security Council's current president, said the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons might continue the cooperative effort by looking into recent allegations of chlorine-gas attacks in the 3-year-old conflict. Ogwu said the 15-country body called for a probe on Wednesday, but did not settle on a mechanism for carrying one out.

Meanwhile, OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü was thinking about unilaterally starting an investigation of the alleged strikes, Reuters reported separately on Thursday.

Chlorine has numerous peaceful uses and is not part of the chemical arsenal that Assad committed to relinquish. However, the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria signed onto last fall would prohibit use of the substance in warfare.

Sigrid Kaag, the U.N.-OPCW mission's special coordinator, said Damascus is on track to meet an April 27 goal for sending out the last of its covered stockpile.

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