UN weapons inspectors send second team into Syria

The group of inspectors "will augment the advance team of OPCW experts, who have been in Syria since October conducting verification and destruction activities" of the country's chemical arsenal, according to the statement. 

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“These developments present a constructive beginning for what will nonetheless be a long and difficult process,” OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü said in a recent progress report on the Syrian disarmament. 

The OPCW teams in Syria are working on behalf of the United Nations, which approved a U.S.-Russian plan earlier this year to eliminate chemical stockpiles held by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

Üzümcü is expected to sign a "supplementary agreement" with the U.N. to "facilitate the provision of security and field and logistics support" for the disarmament program, the statement says.

He provided no details as to when that agreement will be finalized. 

So far, Assad has complied with the terms of the U.N.-mandated disarmament deal, offering up a comprehensive assessment of his chemical stockpiles and allowing international inspectors into the country. 

In October, Syrian forces began destroying portions of its stockpiles, with the goal of having all chemical weapons and weapon-producing facilities inoperable by November. 

Secretary of State John Kerry praised the Assad regime for its compliance with the disarmament plan. 

The embattled Syrian leader deserved “credit” for “complying rapidly” with the U.N. resolution demanding that his regime turn over its chemical weapons to the international community. 

"I'm not going to vouch ... for what happens months down the road, but it's a good beginning, and we should welcome a good beginning," Kerry said in a joint press briefing with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last Sunday. 

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed Kerry for his remarks, questioning how he could publicly support Assad in the wake of the country's ongoing bloody civil war. 

“How could we praise someone who has killed 110,000 people?” Erdoğan said. 

“It does not matter if these people were killed with chemical weapons or with other weapons: In the end, they were killed," he said. 

Assad's forces have battered rebel fighters in Syria during the course of the three-year war, hammering those anti-government forces with a barrage of heavy weaponry, including chemical weapons. 

U.S. forces were poised to begin military strikes against Assad, in retaliation for his use of chemical weapons against rebel positions near Damascus. 

While Congress debated whether to grant the White House authority to intervene in Syria, the Russian-proposed disarmament deal put those strikes on indefinite hold.