Secretary of State John F. Kerry lauded international weapons inspectors Thursday for working "with unprecedented speed" toward eliminating Syria's chemical weapons stocks in accordance with the recent pressure put on Syria by the U.S., Russia and other permanent members of the U.N. Securtiy Council to destroy the weapons.
Mr. Kerry issued a statement after the the U.N.'s main chemical weapons watchdog group — the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — signaled Thursday that it has reliable evidence that Syrian authorities have destroyed the nation's capability to produce chemical weapons ahead of a Nov. 1 deadline that was set last month by Security Council.
Mr. Kerry described the development as "the first milestone in eliminating Syria's chemical weapons and reducing the possibility that they will ever be used again."
While Russia and the U.S. differ over how, and whether, to intervene in the two-year-old civil war plaguing Syria, the two powers joined together in September to put pressure on Syrian President Bashir Assad after it became clear to the world that chemical weapons had been used in the conflict.
U.S. and most Western European intelligence agencies say forces loyal to Mr. Assad were responsible for a horrific Aug. 21 chemical attack near the Syrian capital of Damascus, although Russia authorities still quietly disputes such claims, saying the weapons were likely used by opposition rebels fighting to overthrow Mr. Assad.
Russia has, however, worked closely with Washington during the two months since the attack to create international pressure on the Assad government to rid itself of the weapons. And Mr. Kerry said Thursday that "the progress must continue."
"Where chemical weapons are concerned, we cannot lose sight of what has been accomplished thus far and what continues every day," the secretary of state said. "Backed by the full weight of the United Nations and the international community, [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] inspectors have responded to an unspeakable atrocity with unparalleled action."
"Nothing less would be acceptable after events that shocked the conscience of the world and left 1,400 innocent Syrians dead," he said. "Under the U.S.-Russia Framework, Syria must provide all UN and OPCW personnel unfettered access to any and all sites in order to fulfill their critical mission of verifying the full extent, and the eventual elimination, of Syria's chemical weapons program."
"Syria's obligations are clear, and it will need to fully comply," Mr. Kerry added. "To borrow from President Reagan's maxim, where the Assad regime is concerned, there is no 'trust,' only 'verify.'"
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