Lavrov, Kerry praise Syria on compliance

In a rare instance of unity, Russia and the United States praised Syria for complying with its pledge on eliminating chemical weapons, and vowed to convene an international conference next month to negotiate political settlement to the conflict.

Appearing at a joint news conference with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after their meeting on the sidelines of an economic summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. was “very pleased” with the initial steps Syria had taken toward destroying its estimated 1,000-tonne chemical weapons stockpile.

The United Nations said chemical experts had begun eliminating the weapons, destroying missile warheads, aerial bombs, and chemical equipment on Sunday.

Mr. Lavrov expressed full confidence in Syria’s “impeccable” compliance.

“We have no reason to suspect that the impeccable cooperation that the Syrian government has been offering so far will change in any way,” he said.

Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry called for a conference on ending the civil conflict to be held in Geneva in mid-November.

“Today we have agreed on steps that must be taken for the [Syrian] government and the opposition to come to the conference,” Mr. Lavrov said without elaborating.

Mr. Lavrov repeatedly emphasised a shared approach Moscow and Washington took on Syria.

“I would like to reiterate that we have a common understanding with our American colleagues that there should be synchronised, parallel and coordinated efforts to convene a conference which would be represented by all parties with the help of important international players,” the Russian Foreign Minister said.

Work in progress

Reuters adds from Nusa Dua, Indonesia:

The dismantling follows an agreement hammered out between Washington and Moscow after a deadly Aug 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, which prompted U.S. threats of air strikes against the Syrian government.

The elimination of the chemical weapons is expected to continue until at least mid-2014.

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria’s conflict, which began in early 2011 with peaceful demonstrations seeking more democracy but deteriorated into a sectarian civil war.

The United Nations expects another two million Syrians to become refugees in 2014 and 2.25 million more to be displaced within the country, according to a document seen by Reuters on Monday.

U.N. agencies are preparing to launch a new appeal for aid to help victims of the conflict, which began in March 2011 and shows no sign of ending.

Officials from 10 U.N. agencies, the International Organization for Migration and 18 other aid groups met in Amman on Sept. 26 to plan their strategy for 2014.

OCHA forecast that up to 8.3 million people — or more than a third of Syria’s pre-war population — would be in need by end of 2014, a 37 per cent increase over 2013, including 6.5 million internally displaced people.