Kerry says Syrian chemical arms drive is to Assad's 'credit'

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (AFP) - US Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad could take "credit" for quickly starting the process of destroying his regime's chemical weapons arsenal and thanked Russia for its help.

"The process has begun in record time and we are appreciative for the Russian cooperation and obviously for the Syrian compliance," he told reporters alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after talks in Indonesia.

"I think it's extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the (UN) resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were being destroyed," Mr Kerry said.

"I think it's also a credit to the Assad regime for complying, frankly, as they are supposed to. We hope that will continue. I am not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road. But it's a good beginning and we should welcome a good beginning."

In less expansive comments on the latest developments, Mr Lavrov said he was "satisfied", and promised Russia would continue to ensure Assad's government completed the dismantling process.

"The Russian side will do everything so Damascus will follow the co-operation without any changes," Mr Lavrov told reporters in Russian, with his comments translated into English.

Experts destroyed missile warheads, aerial bombs and chemical mixing equipment Sunday on the first day of the campaign to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, the UN said, after an alleged attack on civilians by pro-Assad forces brought the threat of US-led intervention.

The operation, performed by Syrian personnel under the supervision of international disarmament experts, took place under the terms of a UN Security Council resolution that will see Damascus relinquish the banned arms.

Mr Kerry emphasised the dismantling process had occurred in "record time", and hailed it as a model for international co-operation.

"I think that was a terrific example of global co-operation, of multilateral efforts, to accomplish an accepted goal," he said.

Russia pushed the UN disarmament drive as an alternative to US-led strikes on Syria, whose civil war had been expected to feature in bilateral talks between presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin on the margins of a regional summit in Indonesia.

But Mr Obama scrapped trips to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Bali and the subsequent East Asia summit in Brunei because of the federal budget crisis gripping the United States, sending Kerry in his stead.

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