Syria agrees to Russia chemical weapons plan as France pushes for UN solution
Published Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Updated at 5:55pm: The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid a possible US military strike, Interfax news agency quoted Syria's foreign minister as saying on Tuesday.
The proposal has however been met with skepticism by the American government.
"We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to he Russian initiative," Interfax quoted the minister, Walid al-Muallem, as telling the speaker of Russia's lower house parliament house in Moscow.
He said Syria had agreed because this would "remove the grounds for American aggression," the report said.
The US is waiting to see a real and verifiable plan from, but will not wait long and will not accept a delaying tactic, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday.
"We're waiting for that proposal. But we're not waiting for long," Kerry told a hearing of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
"President Obama will take a hard look at it. But it has to be swift, it has to be real, it has to be verifiable. It cannot be a delaying tactic," Kerry told the panel.
The threat of US military action against Syria must remain on the table, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday.
"All of us are hopeful that this option could be a real solution to this crisis, yet we must be clear-eyed," Hagel told US lawmakers. The "real, credible" threat of US military action must continue, he insisted.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France would propose a UN Security Council resolution setting out conditions for Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control and accept that they will be dismantled.
Fabius told a news conference in Paris the resolution – under Chapter 7 of the UN charter covering possible military and non-military action to restore peace – would warn of "extremely serious" consequences for Damascus if it breached those conditions.
Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov said on Tuesday that Russia was working on an "effective, concrete" plan for putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control and is discussing the details with Damascus.
Lavrov told reporters the plan would be presented to other nations soon and that the proposal, which he announced on Monday, was not entirely Russian but grew out of contacts with the United States.
Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halki said on Tuesday his country supported a Russian proposal for Damascus to give up chemical weapons to avoid a possible US military strike.
Syrian state television quoted Halki as saying the government backed the initiative in order "to spare Syrian blood."
The Arab League said it will support the Russian proposition, the group's chief said on Tuesday.
Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi told reporters in Cairo the League will "soon issue a statement announcing its support officially" of the Russian plan.
Syria's main opposition group called the Russian plan a "political maneuver" to head off threatened US airstrikes on Syria.
Lavrov had previously suggested on Monday that Damascus hand its chemical arsenal to international control and have it destroyed.
"The proposal of Lavrov is a political maneuver and is part of useless procrastination that will only result in more deaths and destruction for the Syrian people," said a statement from the opposition Syrian National Coalition late Monday.
Obama called Lavrov's plan a "significant breakthrough," and US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the move could stop possible military action against Syria.
US lawmakers are due to vote on a resolution authorizing the use of force against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in response to alleged chemical attacks launched near Damascus on August 21 in which hundreds are said to have died.
Damascus has firmly denied it was behind the attacks.
"The perpetrators of war crimes cannot be exonerated and crimes against humanity cannot be washed away by offering political concessions or by handing over the instrument used to commit the crimes," the opposition said, referring to the chemical weapons.
"We call for strikes and we warn the international community that this regime tells lies, and the liar Putin is its teacher," Free Syrian Army chief of staff Selim Idriss told al-Jazeera television on Monday.
The Russian proposal, which apparently began life as an off-the-cuff remark by Kerry, offers Obama a way out of ordering unpopular strikes, days before contentious votes in Congress seeking authorization to use force.
Moscow unveiled its proposal on Monday after Kerry, speaking in London, said the only way to halt strikes would be for Assad to give up his chemical weapons arsenal.
In Congress, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid pushed back a Senate test vote on possible US strikes that had been scheduled for Wednesday as lawmakers evaluate the Russian plan.
The US Senate may not vote this week on the issue, several aides said, adding that congressional leaders want to wait to assess the public's response to President Barack Obama's address to the American people on Syria on Tuesday night.
The dramatic diplomatic twist in weeks of high-tension international wrangling came when Kerry was asked by a reporter during a visit to London whether there was anything Assad's government could do or offer to stop a US military strike.
"Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week - turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting. But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done."
The State Department later said Kerry had been making a rhetorical argument, not an explicit proposal.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also backed the ideas in the proposal, saying he was considering proposing something similar to the Security Council.
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)