Compliance on chem weapons is ‘credit to Assad regime’ – Kerry

The Assad regime in Syria deserves credit for complying with the chemical weapons deal, US Secretary of State John Kerry said after the first high-level meeting with his Russian counterpart since Moscow and Washington agreed on the deal.

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov met on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia on Monday morning.

"The process has begun in record time and we are appreciative for the Russian co-operation and obviously for the Syrian compliance," Kerry said. 

The Secretary of State also said that the US has agreed with Russia to move towards Syria peace talks as soon as possible.

Lavrov stressed that Russia is satisfied with the process of chemical weapons elimination in Syria, saying that over the last two weeks “Damascus flawlessly cooperated with the international inspectors.”

The two parties spoke after the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that they had begun eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, with chemical experts in Syria destroying missile warheads, aerial bombs, and chemical mixing equipment on Sunday. 

"I think it's extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the (UN) resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were being destroyed," Kerry stressed. "I think it's a credit to the Assad regime, frankly. It's a good beginning and we welcome a good beginning."

The UN team crossed into Damascus on Tuesday, tasked with dismantling Assad's estimated 1,000-ton chemical weapons stockpile.   

Lavrov and Kerry both stated that they are in favor of holding the Geneva-2 peace conference on Syria in mid-November and have agreed to press the UN to set a date for the event.

Today we agreed on steps that will need to be implemented in order to get the [Syrian] government and the opposition to the conference,” Lavrov told reporters.

"We will urge a date to be set as soon as possible," Kerry said. 

Speaking of concerns surrounding the conference, Lavrov said there are still indications that the extremists groups in the Syrian opposition will attempt to undermine the negotiations process. The minister said that he and Kerry “reiterated the joint determination to aid in fighting terrorism and extremism in Syria,” adding that the future of the secular, multiethnic, multiconfessional Syrian state depends on this task.

OPCW official praises 'excellent first day'

Meanwhile, an official from the OPCW concurred that Syria had made an "excellent" start to its chemical disarmament.

The official described Sunday's operations in which Syrian forces used disc grinders and cutting torches to render missile warheads and bombs unusable. The official said the process of disarmament would last until mid-2014, noting that cooperation from all sides would be needed in the work ahead.  

"It was an excellent first day, with the stress on the word 'first',"
the official told Reuters by telephone from Damascus, declining to be named.

Experts from the OPCW seek to oversee the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons production and mixing equipment by November 1, and deal with all chemical weapons materials by the end of June 2014.

"There are milestones and tests that lie ahead, and we hope and expect to have continued cooperation of all parties to pass those milestones," the official said.