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Chemical weapons watchdog to begin Syria inspections next week

United Nations (U.N.) vehicles transport members of an U.N. chemical weapons investigation team in Damascus September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Khal
United Nations (U.N.) vehicles transport members of an U.N. chemical weapons investigation team in Damascus September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Khal

By Anthony Deutsch

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Experts from the world's chemical weapons watchdog will begin inspecting Syria's stockpile of toxic munitions by Tuesday, according to an agreement passed in The Hague on Friday.

The agreement enables the U.N. Security Council to vote later on Friday on a draft resolution on eradicating Syria's chemical arsenal.

The decision adopted by the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, called on members to make cash donations to fund Syria's fast-tracked destruction operation.

The 41-member executive council of the OPCW passed the agreement in meetings that ran past midnight.

"It's done and dusted," said spokesman Michael Luhan. "It passed by consensus."

It requests urgent funding to hire inspectors and technical experts to destroy what Western intelligence agencies believe is about 1,000 tonnes of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agents, built up over decades and spread over dozens of locations.

An OPCW official said an advance team would head for Syria on Monday.

Established to enforce the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, the OPCW has an annual budget of under $100 million and fewer than 500 staffers. It does not have the manpower to carry out the task without significantly increasing resources.

Experts have said it will be risky and expensive to destroy the chemicals in Syria, where a civil war has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions more.

Syria has just nine months to do what some countries, including Russia and the United States, have taken more than a decade to do.

UNFETTERED ACCESS

Syria is instructed to provide inspectors with security and "immediate and unfettered" access to all sites. A failure to do so will trigger a meeting by the OPCW's core members within 24 hours, the decision says.

The Security Council resolution to be voted on Friday does not refer to the use of force as a means to enforce the destruction plan, a point which Washington had pressed for.

The OPCW inspectors will have 30 days to visit all chemical weapons facilities declared by Syria to the organization last week, it states.

It is still unclear where and how the chemicals stockpile, the details of which have not been made public by the OPCW, will be destroyed. For most countries, the process often takes years, but Syria has been given until mid-2014.

The agreement contains roughly the same destruction deadlines as in a Russian-American deal brokered earlier this month. Syria must submit additional details of its arsenal, including munitions types, amounts of precursors and toxins, and the location of all storage and production sites within a week.

Syria will appoint a point person within the Syrian government for chemical weapons and must have completed by November 1 the destruction of all chemical weapon production and mixing/filling facilities, the decision states.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Peter Coone)

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