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Russia to host talks on eliminating Syria chemical arsenal

A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weap
A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weap

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will host international talks on Friday on the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

The meeting in Moscow will draw together experts from Russia, the United States, Syria, the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ryabkov told Voice of Russia radio on Tuesday.

Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons under a deal proposed by Russia to avert potential U.S. military action after a deadly August 21 sarin gas attack the United States blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's government.

A plan adopted by the OPCW in The Hague last month called for the most critical chemicals to be transported out of Syria by December 31 and destroyed by mid-March. All other declared chemical materials would be eliminated by June 30.

"We are certain that we will be able to complete this process in the agreed timeframe, meaning in the first half of the coming year," said Ryabkov.

Russia sent trucks and armored vehicles to Syria last week to transport toxins to the port city of Latakia for shipment out of the war zone by sea.

Russia has been Assad's most powerful supporter during the Syrian conflict, blocking attempts to push him from power or punish him with sanctions. Along with the United States and the United Nations, Russia is helping to organize a peace conference scheduled to start on January 22 in Switzerland.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Alexei Anishchuk and Gareth Jones)

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