UN agrees Syria weapons deadline
The UN Security Council has agreed to proposals by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to destroy Syria's chemical weapons by a target of the middle of next year, diplomats said.
France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud and Russia's delegate Vitaly Churkin said after closed consultations that the 15 council members decided to authorise the plan proposed by Mr Ban in a letter - not a resolution.
In an 11-page letter to the council on Monday, Mr Ban recommended that a joint mission be established by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, with a total staff of approximately 100, to carry out what he described as a dangerous and unprecedented operation.
Azerbaijan's UN ambassador Agshin Mehdiyev, the current council president, said he would draft a letter to the secretary-general soon.
International inspectors have so far visited three sites linked to Syria's chemical weapons programme, a spokesman said.
The inspectors are to visit more than 20 sites around the country as part of the disarmament mission. The facilities they inspected in the past 10 days have been in government-held areas, making them fairly easy to reach, said Michael Luhan, spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Operating on rare consensus, the UN has mandated the OPCW to rid Syria of its stockpile by mid-2014 - the tightest deadline ever given to the OPCW. It is also the first conducted amid continuing fighting. Syria's conflict, which erupted in March 2011, pits disorganised armed rebels against forces loyal to the regime of Bashar Assad.
At some point, the 27-member team might have to cross rebel-held territory to reach other locations linked to Syria's chemical weapons programme. The UN hopes to organise ceasefires between rebels and government forces to ensure safe passage.
Shifting front lines crisscross the country, divided into a patchwork of rebel and regime-held areas.