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Syria's Chemical-Destruction Moves Prompt Cautious U.S. Praise

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a Monday press conference in Bali, Indonesia. The top diplomat praised initial steps by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to eliminate its chemical arsenal under an international disarmament plan (Sonny Tumbelaka/Getty Images). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at a Monday press conference in Bali, Indonesia. The top diplomat praised initial steps by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to eliminate its chemical arsenal under an international disarmament plan (Sonny Tumbelaka/Getty Images).

New chemical-disarmament steps by the Syrian government prompted praise from Washington's top diplomat on Monday, hours after Damascus destroyed the first of its warfare materials under international supervision.

"I’m not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road, but it’s a good beginning, and we should welcome a good beginning," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a morning press conference in Bali, Indonesia.

On Sunday, Syrian-government workers started using power tools to cut apart gear such as "missile warheads, aerial bombs and mixing-and-filling equipment," the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a statement. "The process will continue in the coming days."

Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime faces a Nov. 1 deadline to fully dismantle its capability to produce chemical weapons. Destroying the government's chemical-warfare substances is slated to take longer, and the process could involve mass shipment of the materials out of Syrian territory, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Chemical weapons analyst Jean Pascal Zanders, though, said "there is no way they can get around" a ban on transferring such agents between states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Christian Science Monitor reported on Sunday.

Obama administration insiders said Damascus apparently was transferring chemical arms to several gathering points, a possible signal of its intention to support international plans to eliminate the weapons, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.

One issue expert, though, referenced actions by Saddam Hussein's Iraq to argue that Assad "could use the rights afforded to him under the Chemical Weapons Convention ... to thwart the work" of international disarmament crews.

As in prewar Iraq, Assad "rolled out the welcome mat for inspectors, then stalled them while trying to destroy incriminating evidence," said Amy Smithson, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

NTI Analysis

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  • Disarming Syria of Its Chemical Weapons: Lessons Learned from Iraq and Libya

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    This CNS issue brief examines the lessons learned from dismantling Libya and Iraq's chemical weapons programs and what these two cases presage for disarmament in Syria. In particular, this article explores the challenges relating to ensuring material and physical security for both inspectors and the chemical weapons stockpile itself; verifying the accuracy and completeness of disclosed inventories; and developing effective monitoring and verification regimes for the long-term. The conclusion examines recommendations stemming from this analysis.

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