Russia Says Syria Chemical Deal on Track as Homs Access Agreed

The Syrian government is on track to meet a mid-2014 deadline for the destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal and has agreed to allow access to the besieged city of Homs, Russia said.

“We’re certain that there are no grounds to doubt the time frame for the liquidation of the chemical military potential, the end of June this year,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters in Moscow today.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has also agreed with rebel groups over humanitarian access to civilians trapped in Homs, Lukashevich said. The city’s governor, Talal al-Barazi, said a deal has been struck for the evacuation of the civilians, Syria’s state-run SANA news service reported today.

A first round of United Nations-brokered talks over Syria ended last month in Geneva without any progress, including on a UN plan to open a humanitarian corridor to blockaded areas of rebel-held Homs, the third-largest city in Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Jan. 31 that Syria wasn’t moving “as rapidly as it promised” to move out its chemical weapons. The government would be referred to the UN Security Council for failure to comply, he said.

The U.S. and Russia brokered an agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in Geneva in September, a deal that averted the threat of American military strikes against the Middle East country and helped pave the way to peace talks.

Humanitarian Aid

The next round of negotiations between Syria’s government and the opposition is scheduled for Feb. 10 and should focus on providing humanitarian supplies to besieged areas and prisoner exchanges, Lukashevich said.

The implementation of a June 2012 communique agreed on by world powers, which calls for a transitional power-sharing authority in Syria, should be done “step-by-step,” starting with confidence-building measures, he said.

Russia, the chief ally of Assad along with Iran, says the political transition foreseen under the UN-sponsored peace plan doesn’t necessarily mean regime change. The opposition insists Assad must go. Syria’s government says the priority is to fight terrorism and stop foreign support for rebel groups.

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