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China ready to assist Syria with destruction of chemical weapons

By Zhang Yunbi | China Daily | Updated: 2013-09-24 07:17

China will send experts "when asked" to help with the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

China welcomes the Syrian government's submission of a list of its chemical weapons to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing on Monday, adding that the decision is "one more positive measure".

The organization confirmed it received the list on Saturday.

"Regarding the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria, China will support the OPCW's work as before, including sending experts to participate in the action at the request of the organization," Hong said.

China has consistently supported the work of the OPCW and provided many high-end experts, especially chemical-weapons inspectors, to the organization.

Beijing "supports the OPCW's positive role in settling the Syrian chemical weapons issue and is willing to work with various parties to push its (the OPCW's) standing committee to pass a resolution", Hong said.

Li Shaoxian, a Middle East studies researcher at China Institutes of Contemporary Relations, cautioned that the process of eliminating chemical weapons could be disrupted if the situation in Syria continues to worsen.

"If the situation continues sliding toward all-out civil war and the opposition gains enough strength, Washington might find an excuse at any time to launch an attack on the Syrian government," Li said.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the government now needs to facilitate the work of the UN inspectors, who will visit the production facilities and storage sites for the chemical weapons in the coming month, according to an interview aired by China Central Television on Monday.

But "now the only obstacle is the security conditions in some areas, which will make it difficult for the inspectors to enter", and terrorist militants "may even shift the blame onto the government", he said.

Assad did not give details on the size of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, and he said the Syrian army "mainly fights with conventional weapons".

He added: "Any country or army that possesses chemical weapons generally has special protection measures to stop the weapons from falling into terrorist or enemy hands. We are not worried about this problem. Our chemical weapons are stored at safe places that are totally controlled by the Syrian army," he said.

Li Hong, secretary-general of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said that in addition to the turbulent situation, the financial cost is a heavy burden for the Syrian government, and it is "unrealistic" to expect full elimination of Syrian chemical weapons by 2014.

In New York, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday at UN headquarters to discuss Syria and related developments.

Wang said it is now important for the international community to reach consensus on the Syrian issue as soon as possible and for the UN Security Council to "send out a message of unity".

The elimination of Syria's chemical weapons and the political settlement of the Syrian issue should be advanced together, Wang added.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem will head the country's delegation to the UN General Assembly, Syria's Al-Watan newspaper reported on Monday. He will address the UN on Sept 30.

Xinhua and AFP contributed to this story.

 China ready to assist Syria with destruction of chemical weapons

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an interview with China Central Television in Damascus on Monday. Assad criticized the United States for threatening to attack Syria over its chemical weapons program, saying it was finding "excuses for war". SANA via Reuters

(China Daily 09/24/2013 page12)

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