U.S. 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, Reuters reported.
"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."
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".
Lavrov, speaking through an interpreter, said Moscow would "do everything" it could to ensure that Assad abides by the U.N. resolution, which demands the eradication of Syria's chemical weapons and endorses a plan for a political transition in Syria.
But Lavrov said Syria's opposition groups could not set pre-conditions for the talks in Geneva and should come prepared to "speak with one voice".
Syria makes 'excellent' start
Meanwhile, Syria won foreign praise on Monday for starting to destroy its chemical arsenal.
An official from the international mission overseeing the stockpile's elimination said Damascus had made an excellent start, and the United States acknowledged its rapid compliance with a U.N. resolution on destroying chemical weapons as extremely significant.
The official described Sunday's operations in which Syrian forces used cutting torches and angle grinders to render missile warheads and bombs unusable. However, he noted that this was only the start of work that is due to last until mid-2014 and requires the cooperation of all sides.
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.
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