DAMASCUS - AFP/Reuters  - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can take “credit” for moving quickly to eliminate his regime’s chemical arms, the United States said Monday, as disarmament experts said Damascus was being “cooperative”.

Speaking in Indonesia, US Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed the start of work to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons under the terms of a UN Security Council resolution. “The process has begun in record time and we are appreciative for the Russian cooperation and obviously for the Syrian compliance,” he told reporters after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “I think it’s extremely significant that yesterday, Sunday, within a week of the resolution being passed, some chemical weapons were being destroyed,” Kerry said.“I think it’s a credit to the Assad regime, frankly. It’s a good beginning and we welcome a good beginning.”

Syria agreed to give up its chemical arsenal under last month’s UN resolution, which enshrined an agreement struck between Washington and Moscow aimed at averting US military action. Under the plan, Syria’s chemical weapons production facilities must be destroyed by November 1. The process is being overseen by a joint team from the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which arrived in Damascus last Tuesday. On Sunday, it began overseeing the first work to destroy and disable parts of the weapons arsenal.

“It was an excellent first day; stress on the word first,” an official from the UN-OPCW mission told AFP on Monday.

“There will be many more days and more milestones and we expect the continued cooperation of all concerned so that we can pass those milestones effectively,” he added. On Sunday, the team said in a statement that Syrian workers “used cutting torches and angle grinders to destroy or disable a range of items” including “missile warheads, aerial bombs and mixing and filling equipment.”

Syria’s chemical arsenal, believed to include 1,000 tonnes of the nerve agent sarin, mustard gas and other banned arms at dozens of sites, must be destroyed by mid-2014.At the Hague, the OPCW said some of its officials were heading back from Damascus after talks with Syrian authorities about the operation.

“The discussions were constructive and the Syrian authorities were cooperative,” the organisation said.

As the operation got under way, Assad admitted in an interview that his government had made “mistakes” in the country’s brutal conflict.

Meanwhile, Turkey is building a two-metre high wall along part of its border with Syria near an area of frequent fighting to try to stop people from illegally bypassing its checkpoints and prevent smuggling, officials said on Monday.

Construction workers with excavators began digging foundations in Nusaybin, a border district 10 km (6 miles) north of the Syrian town of Qamishli, where Kurds, rebel units and Arab tribes have regularly clashed. “We haven’t had border security problems in Nusaybin so far but in that area it’s extremely easy for people to cross illegally. It’s almost like there is no border,” said a got official in Ankara, asking not to be named.