In Syria, a team of international weapons experts has begun the process of destroying the country's chemical weapons arsenal.
"The inspectors used sledgehammers and explosives to begin the work," NPR's Deborah Amos reports for our Newscast unit. "They are on a tight deadline to destroy more than 1,000 tons of nerve gas and banned weapons within a year."
Personnel from the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons make up the team. On Friday, a U.N. spokesperson said the team hoped to begin onsite inspections and destruction of production facilities in the coming week.
The inspectors' progress comes as Syrian President Bashar Assad maintains his government did not use chemical weapons on its citizens. In recent weeks, a U.N. report found that the poison gas sarin was used in an attack that killed hundreds of civilians — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the incident a "war crime."
In an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel, Assad admitted that he has made mistakes. And he said he would like for Germany to help mediate an end to Syria's civil war, which has lingered for more than two years. Amos reports:
"Stepping up interviews to Western news outlets, Assad told Der Spiegel magazine he wants negotiations, but [he] limited the partners. Not with rebels unless they put down their weapons, he said. Assad again denied his military had used chemical weapons, despite his pledge to allow a U.N. team to dismantle his arsenal."
When asked about President Obama, Assad reportedly said, "The only thing he has is lies." He said that in contrast, Russia understands the reality in Syria.
A U.N. commission's report on the reality in Syria painted a grim picture in September, when it concluded that both government and rebel forces have committed heinous acts in carrying out their struggle. And most of the killing, the report said, was done with conventional weapons.