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Middle East

Syrian crisis: Assad 'deserves credit' for agreeing to chemical weapons destruction, says John Kerry

US cautiously praises the Syrian regime for complying with UN mission to oversee the destruction of the country's chemical stockpile

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime deserves credit for complying with a deal to destroy the country's chemical weapons.

His words came following confirmation from international monitors that the destruction of Syria's stockpile had begun.

The UN resolution to get the regime to give up its chemical weapons was made possible thanks to cooperation between the US and Russia.

The two powers had previously been at loggerheads about how to deal with Syria following a chemical weapons attack near Damascus in August.

“I think it's extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the (UN) resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were being destroyed,” Mr Kerry said after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Bali, Indonesia.

“I think it's a credit to the Assad regime, frankly. It's a good beginning and we welcome a good beginning.

“The process has begun in record time and we are appreciative for the Russian co-operation and obviously for the Syrian compliance.”

The operation is being overseen by a team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)

“The first day of destruction and disabling is over and missile warheads, aerial bombs, along with mobile and static mixing and filling units, were dealt with. Work continues tomorrow and in the next few days,” an official on the joint OPCW-UN delegation said on Sunday.

The stockpile's physical destruction, being carried out by the Syrians themselves, is set to be complicated and fraught, with some weapons sites being located in areas of heavy fighting being forces loyal to the Assad Regime and rebel forces.

Under the deal between the US and Russia, Syria's ability to use chemical weapons should be completely halted by mid-2014.

Mr Lavrov, also speaking at the Apec summit in Bali, stressed that the Western- and Arab-backed opposition must also comply and must ensure that chemical weapons do not fall into the hands of extremists.

Russia, an ally of Syria, has accused the opposition of being behind the chemical weapons attack on 21 August that most countries blame on the regime.

“The responsibility is not only on the Syrian government, but also on the opposition and all the states in this sphere should of course not allow these weapons to fall into the hands of non-state actors,” Mr Lavrov said.

My Kerry and Mr Lavrov told reporters that they were continuing to make progress on preparations for an international conference intended to help set up a transitional government for Syria.

The United Nations has said it would like to host the meeting in Geneva in mid-November. The meeting has been repeatedly delayed but both statesmen said they hoped the rough date would hold.