Chemical weapons watchdog says to meet on Syria

THE HAGUE (AFP) - The world's chemical weapons watchdog said it is to meet on Friday to discuss a Russian-US plan for the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will meet to consider the "elimination of Syrian chemical weapons", director-general Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement on Thursday.

The Hague-based OPCW's 41-member Executive Council will discuss the Russian-US plan agreed at the weekend in Geneva in a bid to avert US-led military strikes on Syria, blamed by the West for a chemical weapons attack in August.

The OPCW is charged with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria asked to join amid growing calls for military action against Damascus.

Its Executive Council is made up of ambassadors from different nations with diplomatic representations in The Hague.

Russia backs the Damascus government in blaming opposition rebels for the August 21 attack near Damascus in which hundreds of people died.

The plan says that President Bashar al-Assad's regime will hand over a list of its chemical weapons and facilities by Saturday, and that all will be destroyed by mid-2014.

However, a defiant Assad said in an interview on Wednesday that the task would take at least a year and cost a billion dollars.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council have been holding talks on a resolution backing the Russia-US plan.

Western nations, who said they are not looking for an immediate threat of force against Assad, could seek a Security Council vote this weekend if Russia agrees.

Britain, France and the United States have prepared a draft resolution that would invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter but would not explicitly threaten force or sanctions.

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