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UN chief suggests joint Syria chem mission with Cyprus support base

UN chief suggests joint Syria chem mission with Cyprus support base
A joint mission of the UN and the OPCW should include some 100 experts deployed both in Damascus and on Cyprus – to provide additional “operational capabilities” – in order to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon proposed.

"I propose the establishment of an OPCW - UN Joint Mission to eliminate the chemical weapons program of the Syrian Arab Republic," Ban Ki-moon wrote in a letter to the UN Security Council.

The mission "will seek to conduct an operation the likes of which, quite simply, have never been tried before," Ban said, in a report to the United Nations Security Council, according to AFP.

A joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN on Syria will be based in Cyprus and will include about 100 people.

“The Joint Mission will build upon advance team deployment and expand to staff of approximately 100 personal from both OPCW and the United Nations,” RIA Novosti quotes. 

The work, the secretary general believes should be split between “particular competencies” of the mission taking into account the “complimentary roles.” The UN, Ban writes would also provide administrative support to ensure “coordination and liaison with the Syrian government and opposition groups,” the letter reads.

The mission, the Secretary General suggests would be headed by a “civilian Special Coordinator” that would be appointed by Ban Ki-moon.

The UN chief has proposed to split the mission in three phases, according to the document.

A United Nations vehicle carrying inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) leaves a hotel in Damascus on October 7, 2013, as they continue their work to verify details of Syria's chemical arsenal and oversee their destruction. (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)

The first phase suggests developing an "initial presence in Damascus" and consultations with the Syrian government to revise and clarify the documents on chemical weapons provided to the OPCW. The second stage includes audits and inspections of production and storage facilities and their destruction which are to be completed by November 1.

"To achieve that end the joint mission will further develop its operational capabilities, including through the opening and development of the support base in Cyprus. It will enhance its medical response capabilities, its security posture, including through the deployment of armored vehicles, and develop its specialized training program."

The third eight-month-long stage will be for the complete destruction of Syrian chemical weapons by July 30, 2014.

The UN chief also thanked the Government of Cyprus for the opportunity for the mission to be partially based on the island.  

The UN Secretary-General’s letter is expected to be discussed at the Security Council’s meeting on October 10.

Meanwhile weapons inspectors in Syria have begun destroying the country’s stockpile of chemical weapons noting that the "Syrian authorities were cooperative" in the process.

The UN confirmed that so far missile warheads, aerial bombs, and chemical mixing equipment had been surrendered to the OPCW, which started working in Syria on October 1.

Last week OPCW official stated that all “expedient methods” would be used to ensure Syria’s production facilities would be rendered unusable as the mission looks to finish its their work by mid-2014. 

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.

The US has welcomed the progress in Syria saying that the Assad government deserves credit for complying with the chemical weapons deal, 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 Minister 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," US Secretary of State John Kerry said at the APEC summit after a meeting with Lavrov.

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

US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their press conference on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Nusa Dua on Indonesia's resort island of Bali on October 7, 2013. (AFP Photo)

Syrian opposition sets conditions for Geneva-2 talks 

On Monday, the Western-backed Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, produced a list of conditions that need to be “guaranteed” for it to participate in the Geneva-2 peace conference. 

“We do not reject participation in Geneva-2 but we request guarantees for its success. And if we receive these guarantees we will show them to the military leaders,” the head of the group, Ahmed Jarba told reporters including al Arabiya. 

Referring to Iran as an “enemy” and “occupier” of Syria, the SNC said that Tehran should not act as a “mediator” at the conference. Jarba also demanded “Hezbollah leave Syria.” 

The coalition’s leader also said that there will be “no dialogue with the criminal Assad regime.”“Nationalist dialogue is only with nationalists,” Jarba said. 

The demands are not at all surprising for political analyst Ibrahim Alloush, who tells RT that the main goal of the opposition is not to negotiate but rather to provoke a Western military engagement with Assad forces. 

“All the main groups within the Syrian opposition, be it the Syrian Free Army or SNC have said that they would have preferred a military strike against Syria instead of having Syria peacefully remove its caches of chemical weapons,” Alloush says. 

“They [Syrian opposition groups] are not only refusing to cooperate with the UN mission they have openly said that they are not interested in attending the Geneva II conference for resolving this problem politically,” Alloush concludes.