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Syria

Kerry welcomes Syria 'compliance' in chemical weapons destruction

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said Syria deserves "credit" for its compliance so far in the destruction of its chemical weapons stocks. The first weapons were eliminated on Sunday in line with a UN resolution.

The US Secretary of State told reporters on Monday that the United States and Russia were "very pleased" with progress made so far in the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.

In a press conference alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kerry said the Syrian regime deserved credit for its compliance thus far.

"The process has begun in record time and we are appreciative for the Russian cooperation and obviously for the Syrian compliance," Kerry said following a meeting with Lavrov on the sidelines of an economic summit in Indonesia.

"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 said.

"I think it's a credit to the Assad regime, frankly. It's a good beginning and we welcome a good beginning."

The team of international disarmament inspectors on Sunday began the process of destroying Syria's 1,000-ton stockpile of chemical weapons and the machinery used to make it.

The team from the United Nations and the The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is in Syria under the terms of a UN resolution, based on a US-Russian agreement, that will see President Bashar al-Assad's regime hand over all its chemical weapons for complete destruction by mid-2014.

The deal was made following a sarin attack on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on August 21. The United States has blamed Assad's government for the attack, which it says left more than 1,400 people dead.

'No negotiations with rebels'

But in an interview with the German newsmagazine Spiegel to be published in print on Monday, Assad has again denied carrying out the attack, blaming it instead on the rebels who are trying to oust him in an increasingly bloody civil conflict.

"The picture you're painting of me as someone who kills his own people is [false]," the magazine quotes him as saying.

In the interview, he said he did not think it was possible to solve the conflict in Syria by negotiating with the rebels.

"In my view, a political opposition does not carry weapons," he is quoted as saying. "If someone drops his weapons and wants to return to daily life, then we can discuss it."

The Spiegel also said Assad would welcome Germany as a possible mediator in the conflict wracking his country.

He would be glad if German envoys were to come to Damascus "to speak with us about the true state of affairs," Assad said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, however, told Spiegel Online on Sunday that Germany would not take on such a role, as Berlin already supported UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi as mediator in the conflict.

ccp/tj (AFP, AP, Reuters)