WASHINGTON - With the clock ticking down on a Russian-US deal, the United States said Thursday it expected Syria to hand over a list of its chemical arms within the next few days. On Saturday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was given a week to make a full declaration of his stockpile under the terms of the agreement struck in Geneva.
US officials traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry for the Geneva talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov suggested Assad's time would run out late Friday or early Saturday.
"We expect them to submit it within a week," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Thursday.
"Clearly we've all said this is an ambitious timeline, but we believe the situation is so serious that action needs to be taken as quickly as possible." Amid hints that there could be some wiggle room, Harf stressed the Geneva framework did not use "the word 'deadline.'"
But "the framework does set out a timeline," she stressed, adding "we should expect to see it within that time frame."
US officials have said Syria's declaration would be the first test of the regime's seriousness in handing over its chemical weapons to international control.
Under the terms of the Geneva framework, Damascus is to allow arms experts immediate access to its chemical weapons sites, with the aim of removing the arms and destroying them by mid-2014.
The world's chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, is to meet on Sunday in its headquarters in The Hague to discuss the framework accord.
It is expected that Syria would hand the list of its arsenal to the OPCW, as that is one of the first steps of joining the body.
Separate discussions are already underway at the United Nations to draw up a resolution for UN action if Syria fails to comply with the international efforts to destroy its chemical weapons.