BALI, Indonesia (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that the United States and Russia are "very pleased" with the progress made so far in destroying Syria's chemical weapons stocks. And, he offered some rare, if qualified, U.S. praise for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Kerry, speaking at a press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, said the Assad regime deserves credit for its speedy compliance thus far with the U.N. Security Council resolution calling for the elimination of the weapons. However, Kerry stressed that Assad is not off the hook yet and needs to continue to comply with U.N. demands.
"Let me be crystal clear," Kerry said, "we're very pleased with the pace of what has happened with respect to chemical weapons." He noted that on Sunday, just over a week after the Security Council and the international chemical weapons watchdog acted, experts had started the process of destroying the stockpiles.
"I think that was a terrific example of global cooperation, of multilateral efforts to accomplish an accepted goal and they have moved with equal speed to get on the ground in Syrian and begin the operations," he said.
"I think it is also credit to the Assad regime for complying rapidly as they are supposed to," Kerry said. "We hope that will continue. Now, I am not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road. But it is a good beginning and we should welcome a good beginning."
Kerry and Lavrov met Monday on the sidelines of an economic summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. Their meeting represented the first high-level talks between the two nations since they sealed a deal to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons.
International disarmament inspectors began work Sunday to destroy Syria's estimated 1,000-ton stockpile of chemical weapons. They're working against a Nov. 1 deadline set by the United Nations last month to destroy the Assad government's capability to produce the weapons.
Lavrov said the Assad regime, a friend of Russia's, was cooperating fully. He made the point that the Western- and Arab-backed opposition must also comply and must ensure that chemical weapons not fall into the hands of extremists. Russia has accused the opposition of being behind an Aug 21 chemical weapons attack that most countries blame on the regime.