U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Monday, saying that news that international disarmament experts had begun dismantling and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and the equipment used to produce it represented “a good beginning,” and Assad deserved credit for honoring the terms of a deal reached last month to secure and destroy the regime’s weapons.
Kerry was speaking at a joint news conference in Bali, alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The U.S. and Russia held their first high-level talks on the sidelines of an economic summit to discuss Syria, as well as the onset of an apparent warming between Iran and the West.
Kerry said the United States and Russia were “very pleased” with the progress made so far in destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stocks, but added that Assad needed to continue to comply with U.N. demands.
Kerry also said that he and Lavrov had agreed to press the U.N. to set a date for a Syrian peace conference sometime in the second week of November.
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.
Kerry and Lavrov also discussed Iran and its nuclear program. Officials from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the U.S., China, the Russian Federation, France and the United Kingdom — and Germany will meet with representatives from Iran in Geneva on Oct. 15 to hold renewed talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and says it is enriching uranium to levels needed for medical isotopes and reactor fuel.
Western powers, including the U.S., fear Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb and have imposed crippling economic sanctions to encourage Iran to curb its enrichment program.