By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY
Inspectors in Syria have completed the destruction of machinery used to produce chemical weapons, meeting a crucial deadline in the international effort to eliminate the deadly weapons from the war-torn country, according to a statement issued Thursday by the agency overseeing the inspections.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemicals Weapons "is now satisfied that it has verified -- and seen destroyed -- all of Syria's declared critical production and mixing/filling equipment," according to the statement. The deadline was to complete it by Nov. 1.
The much more difficult process of removing about 1,000 metric tons of deadly chemical from the country remains. Syria last week made a full declaration of its chemical weapons and submitted a plan for their removal or elimination.
Details of the plan, which would probably require a broad international effort to remove stockpiles from the country and destroy them elsewhere, has not been released.
Weapons inspectors have visited 21 of the 23 sites that had been declared by Syria's government, according to the OPCW. Two sites were in contested areas where the government of Bashar al-Assad could not provide adequate security.
Syria has told the inspectors, however, that the two sites had been abandoned and any chemical weapons or associated equipment had been moved to other sites, the OPCW said in a statement.
The organization has said Syria's government has been cooperative so far.
The efforts are part of an agreement, hammered out initially between the United States and Russia, and later approved by the United Nations, to remove or eliminate Syria's vast stockpile of bulk chemicals and precursors.
The agreement was reached after Assad's forces used chemical weapons in August during fighting against rebels in a suburb of Damascus.