International disarmament crews pressed ahead with efforts to destroy chemical-warfare materials held by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government early this week, as diplomats from nearly a dozen countries met to discuss potential talks on ending Syria's civil war.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Monday said it oversaw the destruction of "critical equipment" at 14 facilities in Syria, eight more since an update from last Wednesday. Staffers as of Monday had audited a total of 17 Syrian sites, according to an OPCW statement.
Assad admitted his forces possess chemical weapons and agreed to their destruction in September, after a nerve-gas attack weeks earlier raised the possibility of U.S. military intervention in the nation's civil war.
The work of the disarmament personnel is being monitored closely around the world. The international team has faced constant threats of violence, and last week canceled a visit to one chemical-arms site over security worries. In response, the United States on Monday said it sent the disarmament workers 10 armored vehicles valued at $1.5 million for their protection, according to a U.S. State Department statement.
Meanwhile, Sigrid Kaag, the chemical-disarmament effort's new special coordinator, traveled to Damascus on Monday, according to OPCW. Other chemical-watchdog officials already in the Syrian capital were consulting with the ruling regime as it prepared an "initial formal declaration" of its chemical-warfare inventory. A multilateral decision from last month calls for Assad's government to submit the document by Sunday.
In London on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and officials from 10 other countries met to discuss possible Syrian peace talks. After their meeting at the Lancaster House, the United Kingdom's top diplomat pressed Syria's Western-backed resistance to "commit itself fully" to a proposed meeting aimed at ending the conflict.
The peace talks -- tentatively slated for in November in Geneva -- are the "best hope" for Syria's people "to improve their lives," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC.
Ahmad Jarba, head of the anti-Assad Syrian National Coalition, appeared set at Tuesday's meeting to rule out participating in any peace meeting that does not seek Assad's elimination from office, Reuters reported. A final decision is not expected until early next month, the BBC reported.
Speaking on Monday, Assad said "the factors are not yet in place if we want [the initiative called Geneva 2] to succeed," Agence France-Presse reported.
"Personally, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't run in the next election," he added in an interview with al-Mayadeen television.