NATO chief: Western strike on Syria "still on the table"
Published Thursday, September 19, 2013
Updated at 4:00pm: The option of carrying out a military strike or similar operation in Syria must be kept open as a way of dealing with the crisis, the secretary-general of the NATO military alliance said on Thursday.
Anders Rasmussen’s comments came as the world's chemical weapons watchdog said it is to meet Friday to discuss a Russian-US plan for the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal.
Rasmussen welcomed a US-Russian agreement, but said it was essential for keeping momentum in the diplomatic and political process that the military option remained on the table.
"I think, irrespective of the outcome of the deliberations in the UN Security Council, the military option will still be on the table," Rasmussen said at an event organized by the Carnegie Europe think tank.
A draft UN Security Council resolution on Syria's chemical weapons under discussion in New York leaves the door open to the use of force if Syria does not comply. Russia is expected to oppose this provision.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will meet to consider the "elimination of Syrian chemical weapons", director general Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement Thursday.
The Hague-based OPCW's 41-member Executive Council will discuss the Russian-US plan agreed at the weekend in Geneva in a bid to avert US-led military strikes on Syria, blamed by the West for a chemical weapons attack in August.
The OPCW is charged with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria asked to join amid growing calls for military action against Damascus.
Rasmussen said he had no doubt the Syrian government was behind an August 21 sarin gas attack on a Damascus suburb that the United States claims killed more than 1,400 people.
The Syrian government vehemently denies any responsibility in the attack, claiming rebels were responsible.
The plan says that President Bashar al-Assad's government will hand over a list of its chemical weapons and facilities by Saturday, and that all will be destroyed by mid-2014.
In an interview with US network Fox News, Assad has said it will take at least a year and $1 billion for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons.
"I think it's a very complicated operation, technically. And it needs a lot of money, about a billion," he told Fox.
"So it depends, you have to ask the experts what they mean by quickly. It has a certain schedule. It needs a year, or maybe a little bit more."
Assad insisted in the television interview that his forces had not been behind the August 21 gas attack, but vowed nevertheless to hand over his deadly arsenal.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Thursday that Russia has no current plans to destroy Syrian chemical weapons on its own territory.
Asked whether Russia had such plans, Shoigu told Interfax news agency, "No. A decision needs to be taken for this."
"We have factories for the destruction of chemical weapons, but there is a big difference between 'ready' and 'willing'."
Western nations, who said they are not looking for an immediate threat of force against Assad, could seek a Security Council vote this weekend if Russia agrees.
Britain, France and the United States have prepared a draft resolution that would invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter but would not explicitly threaten force or sanctions.
(Reuters, AFP, Al-Akhbar)