Middle East

Syria welcomes proposal on chemical weapons

Russian foreign minister says he urged Syria to surrender its chemical weapons if it would help avert military strikes.

Last Modified: 09 Sep 2013 17:25
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Syria has said it welcomes Russia's proposal for the country to put its chemical weapons under international control, Reuters reports, quoting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.

The reaction followed a statement by the Russian foreign minister on Monday that it had Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control if the move would avert military strikes.

Sergey Lavrov said he had already conveyed the idea to Muallem during talks in Moscow and that Russia expected "a quick and, I hope, a positive answer".

The statements brought a sharp response from the commander of the Free Syrian Army, the main Syrian rebel group, Selim Idriss, who accused both the Syrians and the Russians of "deceit".

"We call for strikes and we warn the international community that this regime tells lies, and the liar [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is its teacher. Putin is the biggest liar," he said in an interview to Al Jazeera.

For his part, Lavrov said as well as handing over the weapons and having them destroyed, Syria should also become a full member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The statement was prompted by a comment made by John Kerry, US secretary of state, suggesting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a US strike by surrendering all his chemical weapons within a week.

Further clarification from the State Department indicated that Kerry had been speaking rhetorically.

Al Jazeera's Barnaby Phillips, reporting from Moscow, said the Russians were running with Kerry's remark.

"He wasn't bringing a proposal to the press conference, he was responding to a question from a reporter," he said.

"The Russians have picked this up and run with it. it is a new idea and it certainly throws the cards up in the air somewhat."

The developments came during a day of increasing rhetoric surrounding the debate of military intervention, with Russia warning that an attack on Syria risked causing an "outburst of terrorism" in the region at a time when Assad government was still ready for talks to end the conflict.

"All the more, politicians share our estimation that a military solution will lead to an outburst of terrorism both in Syria and in neighbouring countries," Lavrov said on Monday after talks with Muallem.

"The possibility for a political solution remains," he said, emphasising that Muallem had assured him at the talks in Moscow that Syria was still "ready for peace talks".

UN chief's response

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said he too welcomed Russia's proposals and called for the creation of UN-supervised zones in Syria where chemical weapons could be destroyed.

"I am considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria's chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed," Ban said, adding that the step would overcome the Security Council's "embarrassing paralysis".

In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington DC, said the latest development could change the dynamics of the situation.

"An alternative that had zero support up until now, was one that would allow Assad to sign an international treaty and give him 45 days to do so, saying he won’t use chemical weapons," she said.

"This hasn’t been introduced in the Senate but this new plan [introduced by Russia] could draw support for it. The bottom line is - the dynamics have changed."

Russia and the US agreed in May to organise a peace conference in the Swiss city of Geneva, bringing all sides to the negotiating table but it has not happened amid continued US-Russian tensions.

"We are truly ready to take part in the Geneva conference without  preconditions," Moallem said in Moscow, but he warned that the position would change if military strikes took place.

Shortly after the Moscow press conference ended, Kerry and his British counterpart William Hague reiterated that Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack at the centre of the current crisis.


Al Jazeera and agencies
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