Syria talks in Geneva up in the air, as chemical inspectors visit sites



A United Nations arms expert collects samples from the site of an attack in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, on August 29, 2013. Human Rights Watch has concluded from its own investigation that Syrian government forces fired chemical weapons in the August 21 attack, which killed hundreds of people.


Ammar al-Arbini

Syria's deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, announced tentative dates for a second international conference on resolving the conflict in Syria that has killed more than 100,000 people.

Jamil, currently on a visit to Moscow, said talks, dubbed Geneva 2, could take place in the Swiss city on Nov. 23 and 24.

However, Russia and the United States, who are organizing the conference, said no date has been set for the talks.

"We shouldn't get ahead of ourselves," Russian Foreign Ministery spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Thursday.

A senior State Department official echoed the sentiment, saying, "No date is set until it is set and announced by the UN."

A spokeswoman for Arab League and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said she did not expect a date to be announced before November, according to Reuters.

While the date remains up in the air, attendance does as well.

The Syrian opposition coalition has not confirmed whether it will attend the Geneva talks, but the largest group within the coalition — the Syrian National Council — declared it would not take part.

The SNC's leader, George Sabra, said earlier this week that the SNC "had taken the firm decision... not to go to Geneva under the present circumstances (on the ground)."

Meanwhile, chemical weapons inspectors working for the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are halfway through their examination of Syria's arsenal, the group said Thursday.

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"We have done nearly 50 percent of the verification work of the facilities that have been declared to us," Malik Ellahi, a political advisor on Syria for the OPCW, told journalists at The Hague.

The OPCW said on Wednesday that its inspectors have destroyed chemical weapons equipment at six sites identified by the Syrian government.

The deadline for checking out Syria's disclosed chemical weapons, destroying production facilities and starting the destruction of Category 3 chemical weapons is Nov.1.

All chemical weapons are to be destroyed by June 30, according to a deal brokered by the United States and Russia and backed by the United Nations Security Council.

It remains to be seen if dangerous conditions in Syria will allow the inspectors to complete their work on time. Car bombs and mortars exploded close to their hotel on Wednesday, as well as on Oct. 12. On Thursday, the inspectors were unable to visit one of the designated sites because of safety concerns.