Chemical weapons chief reports on Syria mission

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OPCW, in The HagueA car arrives at the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday Sept. 27, 2013.

The global chemical weapons watchdog has scheduled a meeting to approve a U.S.-Russian brokered plan to rapidly verify, secure and then destroy Syria’s arsenal of poison gas and nerve agents. The 41-nation executive council of the OPCW is meeting late Friday to sign off on the plan that has been hammered out in nearly two weeks of behind-closed doors negotiations. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The chief of the global chemical weapons watchdog briefed member states Tuesday on progress in the high-stakes, high-risk mission to rid Syria of its poison gas stockpile.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, spoke to the group’s 41-nation Executive Council at the start of a four-day meeting in The Hague as inspectors continued their mission in Syria to verify and destroy the country’s estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal in the midst of a two-year civil war.

Details of the briefing were not immediately available but a press conference was scheduled later in the day.

A group of experts who were among the first into Syria last week has already returned to the OPCW headquarters to report on their talks with officials from President Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus.

Uzumucu’s briefing came a day after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon revealed key details of the unprecedented UN-OPCW mission.

In a letter to the Security Council obtained by The Associated Press, Ban recommended Monday that approximately 100 UN and OPCW staff make up the mission.

Ban said that the international community’s aim of destroying Syria’s chemical weapons program by mid-2014 will require “an operation the likes of which, quite simply, have never been tried before,” with greater operational and security risks because of the speed required.

In Syria, teams of weapons inspectors were seen leaving their Damascus hotel in several U.N.-marked vehicles on Tuesday morning. It was not clear where they were headed and what their task for the day was.

On Sunday and for the first time since the mission began last week, Syrian personnel working under the supervision of the OPCW experts began destroying the country’s chemical arsenal and equipment used to produce it.

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