The first chemicals from Syria’s weapon arsenal were shipped out of the country Tuesday, amid reports that President Bashar Assad will likely run for re-election after nearly three years of civil war.
A Danish ship escorted by Russian and Chinese warships left the port of Latakia carrying the most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal, the BBC reports, in the first stage of the internationally brokered plan to destroy the country’s chemical weapons.
The convoy is destined for a port in Italy where the chemicals will be transferred to a U.S. ship that is fitted to destroy the material. The most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal were to be removed under the plan by the Dec. 31 deadline, but were delayed by weather issues and the ongoing fighting. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons overseeing the process has said it still expects to meet its mid-2014 deadline to rid Syria of its entire arsenal.
The United States and Russia negotiated the deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons after the U.S. and other Western countries alleged that the government fired the nerve agent sarin on a suburb of Damascus Aug. 21, killing hundreds. But the international community is still looking for diplomatic paths to end the destructive civil war.
On Tuesday, Syria’s Information Minister said in a televised news conference that the “Syrian street” wanted Assad to stand in elections in 2014, signaling that Assad may further rile rebel forces by extending his grip on power, Reuters reports.
Representatives of both sides of the civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people are expected to meet for UN-backed peace talks later this month in Geneva.