A Russian soldier destroys chemical weapons.
(Photo: NONE XXX RUSSIAN ARMY ARCHIVES)
The Syrian government has submitted a formal declaration of the chemical weapons in its possession and a plan for their removal, a crucial first step in an international agreement to destroy or remove its stockpiles and weapons.
The declaration was in line with the deadline set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international agency that is overseeing inspections of Syria's chemical weapons.
The organization made the announcement Sunday, saying Syria had submitted its declaration on Thursday, several days before the Sunday deadline. The OPCW governing council will review Syria's plan by November 15.
The organization did not release details of the Syrian declaration, but analysts have said the removal and destruction of Syria's chemical stockpiles will likely be an extensive international effort.
International inspectors have already been getting access to sites within Syria. Michael Luhan, a spokesman for OPCW said Sunday the Syrian government has so far been cooperative.
Washington estimates Syrian leader Bashar Assad's military has about 1,000 metric tons of deadly chemicals and precursors, including nerve agents and mustard gas.
Analysts, such as Paul Walker, an analyst at Green Cross International, environmental research group, have suggested that the stockpiles could be consolidated in a single area inside the country or shipped out for destruction.
But putting such an unprecedented operation together on short notice will be a challenge. Under the agreement, Syria has until the middle of next year to complete the destruction or removal. The country is mired in civil war, although most of the chemicals are in areas controlled by the government.
Norway has already turned down a U.S. request to assist in the destruction of the weapons, citing regulatory concerns and the tight deadline.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ruled out using U.S. troops inside the country as part of the effort, but analysts said U.S. troops or contractors could be involved in the destruction outside of Syria.
The initial agreement on Syria's chemical weapons was hammered out between Russia and the United States after Assad's government used chemical weapons in August in a suburb of domestic where rebel forces were fighting government troops. The chemical weapons agreement was later endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.