12 19 2014
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Syria Aleppo mapSyria has submitted an "initial disclosure" of its chemical weapons program, a spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Friday.

The group -- the international chemical weapons watchdog -- is expecting the government to submit more information in the next day or two, spokesman Michael Luhan said. He did not elaborate on the contents of the disclosure.

The information submitted by Syria is now being reviewed by the OPCW's technical secretariat.

The group's executive council -- which was to meet Sunday at The Hague, Netherlands -- has postponed the meeting until sometime next week, Luhan said, because "more time is needed to prepare draft documents and draft decisions."

This jibes with a timeline in the U.S.-Russian deal forged last week in Geneva, Switzerland, to begin destroying Syria's chemical arsenal. Under the Geneva framework deal, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last Saturday was to declare the weapons program in a week.

"This is irregular," Luhan said, explaining that this level of fast-tracking the disclosure of chemical weapons "has never been done before."

The normal 60-day process for declaring arms is being expedited to seven days "because of the extraordinary concern about Syria's weapons," he said.

"Until now, each country has been typical. The United States, Russia, Libya, India, none have been in a state of war or conflict," Luhan said.

Once the group has received the declaration, Luhan said, "we have to go through it in detail and plan how to conduct the on-the-ground inspection mission, to verify the accuracy of the declaration and put seals on all the materials to make sure they are secure."

A technical briefing on the Syria mission that was to have been held Monday will be rescheduled once a new date has been set for the council meeting.

High-stakes diplomacy playing out

The stakes over halting the Syrian civil war heightened after an August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that the U.S. estimates killed about 1,400 people.

The United States and other Western nations blame the regime for the attack. Russia and Syria say they think rebels used the weapons.

Citing international norms against the use of chemical weapons, President Barack Obama called for the authorization to use military force in Syria and wanted Congress to approve that move

As the United States threatened force to degrade al-Assad's ability to carry out more chemical weapons attacks, a diplomatic opportunity arose between Russia and the United States to put Syria's stockpile under international control.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hammered out a deal in Geneva last week compelling Syria to accept the agreement.

Speaking ahead of next week's U.N. General Assembly meeting, Kerry said Thursday that while "the complete removal of Syria's chemical weapons is possible here, through peaceful means," urgency is needed.

The U.N. Security Council must be prepared to act next week, Kerry said, citing the U.N. chemical weapons report about the attack.

While the report did not blame any side for the attack, Kerry said that it offered "crucial details," making the case implicating al-Assad "only ... more compelling." Russia called the report "distorted" and said it was based on insufficient information.

Despite the diplomacy, the United States hasn't dropped its threat of force and is wary, saying Syria could be using the diplomacy as a stalling tactic.

"Time is short. Let's not spend time debating what we already know," Kerry said.

The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 people have died since March 2011, a period in which harsh government crackdowns against protesters devolved into an all-out civil war.

Another 2 million people have fled their homeland, and more than 4.25 million have been displaced within Syria, the United Nations says.

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