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US praises Assad's role in destruction of chemical weapons

US Secretary of State John Kerry lauded the start of destruction of chemical weapons in Syria as a "good beginning" and said Washington and Moscow had agreed to press the United Nations to set a date for a Syria peace conference in November. In unusual praise for Damascus, Kerry also gave the government of President Bashar al-Assad credit for quickly complying with the U.N. resolution on destroying its chemical weapons arsenal. "I think it is extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were already being destroyed," Kerry said at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at an Asia-Pacific summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. "I think it's also credit to the Assad regime for complying rapidly, as they are supposed to." But he added: "Now, we hope that will continue. I'm not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road, but it's a good beginning, and we should welcome a good beginning."

A team of international experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague and U.N. personnel began destroying Syria's chemical gas arsenal on Sunday.

Their work follows an agreement hammered out between Washington and Moscow after a deadly Aug 21 chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus, which prompted U.S. threats of air strikes against the Syrian government. The elimination of the chemical weapons is expected to continue until at least mid-2014.

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria's conflict, which began in early 2011 with peaceful demonstrations seeking more democracy but deteriorated into a sectarian civil war.

On Bali, Kerry and Lavrov first met with aides and then one-on-one, discussing ways to end Syria's civil war and talks on Oct. 15-16 between world powers and Iran on ending a dispute over its nuclear weapons program.

Kerry characterized his meeting with Lavrov as "one of the most productive we have had", saying they spoke at length about ways to bring Syria's warring parties together in Geneva, known as the Geneva 2 talks.

"We re-committed today very specific efforts to move the Geneva process as rapidly as possible," Kerry said, saying both sides would "lay the groundwork for a round of talks".

They will meet with United Nations special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, to finalise a date for the peace conference, he added.

Brahimi said on Sunday it was not certain that the peace talks would take place in mid-November as planned.

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