x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

US and Russia praise Assad for chemical weapons compliance

Comments come after international inspectors begin the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons in a bid to meet November 1 deadline to disable the regime's ability to produce them.

Bradley Hope

Foreign Correspondent

BEIRUT // The United States and Russia were “very pleased” with the Syrian government’s efforts in destroying chemical weapons stocks, the US secretary of state John Kerry said yesterday.

The comments represented a rare modicum of praise for Bashar Al Assad’s regime from the US, which has backed the rebellion fighting against his government for the past two years. It also showed a slight thawing of relations between the US and Russia, which has backed Mr Al Assad.

“Let me be crystal clear,” Mr Kerry said at a news conference with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Bali, where the two top diplomats were attending an economic summit. “We’re very pleased with the pace of what has happened with respect to chemical weapons.”

Mr Kerry described the efforts to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons as a “terrific example of global cooperation, of multilateral efforts to accomplish an accepted goal”. The meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov was their first since their countries reached an agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons last month.

Before the Russian-led deal, the US was preparing for air strikes on Syrian targets after a chemical weapons attack in a suburb outside Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians, according to Washington.

Mr Kerry also praised the Syrian government for its compliance, a rarity amid the heated exchanges between the two countries over the past two years.

“I think it is also credit to the Assad regime for complying rapidly as they are supposed to,” Mr Kerry said. “We hope that will continue. Now, I am not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road. But it is a good beginning and we should welcome a good beginning.”

International inspectors began the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons on Sunday in a bid to meet the November 1 deadline set by the United Nations to disable the Syrian government’s ability to produce more chemical weapons.

The softening of rhetoric between Syria, Russia and the US comes a month before a planned international conference to hash out plans for a transitional government in Syria. The Syrian government said it would participate, but the scattered opposition movement has so far failed to create a delegation that could attend the conference in Geneva.

In recent days, the Syrian government has dialled down its official statements about the uprising in the country. In stark contrast to his earlier statements characterising the opposition as a “terrorist” movement, Mr Al Assad told the German magazine Der Spiegel in an interview published yesterday that the country’s situation contained “shades of grey”. However, he continued to rule out negotiating with an armed opposition.

bhope@thenational.ae

With additional reporting by Associated Press