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Baird: Syria should not be given time

ISTANBUL – Canada’s foreign minister John Baird is calling Syria’s offer to begin providing information on its chemical arsenal 30 days after it signs an international convention banning such weapons “ridiculous and absurd.”

Baird said Syrian President Bashar Assad could not be given extra time. Baird said: “This is a man, who up until a week ago denied that they had any such weapons.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who joined Baird at a news conference Saturday in Istanbul, also expressed skepticism, saying that Assad was playing for time while continuing to commit atrocities.

The comments come as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were in Geneva negotiating a Russian proposal to inventory, isolate and eventually destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stocks.

They announced an agreement on a framework to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014 and impose UN penalties if the Assad government fails to comply.

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Davutoglu said Turkey welcomed the diplomatic initiative to remove Syria’s chemical weapons, but it was still incumbent on the international community to bring to justice the Syrian officials responsible for crimes against humanity.

Western countries blame Assad for the use of chemical weapons, although he denies the charge and has accused rebels engaged in a two-year-old civil war against his government of using lethal chemical agents.

Canada and Turkey have both called for a strong international response to the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb that U.S. President Barack Obama said killed more than 1,400 civilians, nearly a third of them children.

Baird said on Friday that Turkey is a valued partner for Canada and shares a deep commitment to regional security.

The minister will also hold talks with business leaders in an attempt to advance Canada’s economic interests in Turkey.

The two countries have begun exploratory discussions about a possible free-trade agreement.

Foreign Affairs announced later in the day that Baird will visit Algeria on Sunday and meet with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and Foreign Affairs Minister Ramtane Lamamra.

Their discussions will focus on regional security and counterterrorism, governance and human rights, and economic co-operation.

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The politicians will also discuss recent developments in Egypt, Syria and Mali.

“Canada and Algeria have been strong partners in the Global Counterterrorism Forum as co-chairs of its Sahel working group,” said Baird in a statement.

“Terrorism remains the great struggle of our generation, and it knows no states or boundaries.”

Baird will also meet with business leaders to discuss ways of promoting Canadian interests in Algeria.

“There is significant potential for Canadian companies to intensify their activities in Algeria, particularly in the hydrocarbons sector,” Baird said.

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