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Syria On Course To Meet Weapons Destruction Deadlines


From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

The U.S. and Russia don't agree on much when it comes to Syria. But the deal they reached to get rid of Syria's chemical weapons seems to be paying off. Syria met its deadline to declare all of its stockpiles to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the OPCW announced today that it has visited nearly all of the sites it needs to see.

The question now is, can the U.S. and Russia show the same level of political will to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria? NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: International inspectors have visited 21 of the 23 sites that Syria declared are part of its chemical weapons program. The remaining two are in contested areas, and the OPCW says in a statement that they're trying to negotiate safe access. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization seems pleased with Syria's cooperation so far, but State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki is withholding judgment.

JEN PSAKI: We are reviewing and assessing the completeness and accuracy of Syria's declaration, which is more than 700 pages.

KELEMEN: Syria delivered the report before the deadline and laid out a general plan for destroying all of its chemical weapons and precursor chemicals by the middle of next year. Murhaf Jouejati of the National Defense University says there's a reason Syria is cooperating.

MURHAF JOUEJATI: This is a public relations stunt for President Bashar al-Assad. By complying, and on time, he wants to look good in front of the international community. That buys him a lifeline.

KELEMEN: Jouejati says the chemical weapons agreement has not put a damper on the fighting. Even with inspectors on the ground, he says, Assad's forces have continued to use other means to try to regain territory under rebel control.

JOUEJATI: He is starving neighborhoods of cities and towns, starving them into submission because he knows that by complying with the chemical weapons, the world is pretty happy and they are looking the other way when he uses other means.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State John Kerry, though, says he believes that if the weapons inspectors can carry out their mission in Syria, then the international community can also find a way for aid workers to alleviate the suffering of Syrian men, women and children. He made the case in an op-ed on foreignpolicy.com. Faysal Itani of the Atlantic Council has his doubts, though, because it would require Syria to give aid groups more access.

FAYSAL ITANI: Also, of course, ceasing its own bombing, artillery and air strikes against population zones in rebel controlled areas. And that, I think, is very unlikely because they see it as important to keep these areas from normalizing, if you will, under rebel control, to keep them on a wartime footing, keep them in disarray, and keep the rebels on the defensive.

KELEMEN: So Itani says Secretary Kerry doesn't have much to work with here, even as the U.S. pushes for more humanitarian access and tries to persuade the exiled opposition to attend a peace conference in Geneva. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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