Syria talks inch forward

Free Syrian Army fighters smoke cigarettes as they rest in Aleppo's Qastal al-Harami neighbourhood September 11, 2013.
Free Syrian Army fighters smoke cigarettes as they rest in Aleppo's Qastal al-Harami neighbourhood September 11, 2013.
Nour Kelze/Reuters

Update: Sept. 14, 2013, 8:01 a.m. Deal reached to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons 

Syrian officials are at least talking the talk about giving up their chemical weapons.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Friday that Syria’s deputy foreign minister, Faisal Mekdad, reached out to the group to request “technical assistance.”

The OPCW is the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, a global treaty prohibiting the production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer, or use of chemical weapons.

Following U.S. threats to launch military strikes in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged chemical weapons attack on his own people (killing more than 1,400), Syria agreed to a Russian-led plan to destroy the country’s arsenal.

Ahmet Üzümcü, the director-general of the OPCW, said he received a letter from Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, informing him of Syria’s decision to join the CWC. The U.N also said it received a chemical weapons ban decree.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that he believes the agency’s inspectors will confirm chemical weapons were indeed used in the Aug. 21 attack. Ban said if confirmed, it would be “an atrocious violation of international law.” The UN’s report is expected Monday, but the international body said it would not attempt to discover who implemented the attack, just that it happened.

But securing Syria’s chemical weapons is likely to be a long journey. It could take a decade and billions of dollars to destroy the country’s estimated 1,000 tons of chemical weapons. It would also have to take place in a war zone and depends on the Assad government fully cooperating and detailing exactly where the stockpiles are. Judging from history, that may be easier said than done.

Assad has also said Syria will only hand over its weapons if the U.S. takes possible military action against his regime off the table—something the Obama Administration is refusing to do.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John. F. Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for a second day of talks in Geneva. During a news conference with Lavrov and U.N. Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, Kerry called the conversations “constructive” and hoped the negotiations would even result in plans for a new meeting to end the country’s ongoing, bloody civil war.

Lavrov said he hoped the so-called “Geneva 2” conference to end the war would be a longer term goal. Kerry said that will “obviously depend on the capacity to have success here” on the chemical weapons front.

He said the officials all agreed to do their “homework” and meet again in New York at the end of the month. The goal of the meetings is to come up with a framework to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.

On Thursday, Kerry spoke out against Assad reportedly wanting 30 days to hand over information about its weapons stockpiles.

“This is not a game,” the secretary of state said. “It has to be real. It has to be comprehensive. It has to be verifiable. It has to be credible. It has to be timely and implemented in a timely fashion. And finally, there ought to be consequences if it doesn’t take place.”

Kerry will travel to Jerusalem this Sunday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the State Department said Friday. The two are expected to talk about negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in addition to the developments in Syria.

At the White House, President Obama met with the Amir of Kuwait, an ally in the possible use of military action against Syria. The commander-in-chief said he hopes negotiations between Kerry and Lavrov “will bear fruit” and reiterated that any agreement must be “verifiable and enforceable.”

According to NBC News, the talks will continue into Saturday and could resume at some point on Friday night.

Atrocities have been documented on both sides of the Syrian civil war that has killed more than 100,000 and displaced millions, but recent reports have pointed mass executions–including of entire families–at the hands of the Assad regime.

Syria talks inch forward