Syria accepts Russian chemical weapons plan

Decision aimed at “removing grounds for US aggression” as support grows for putting arms under international scrutiny.

The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid a possible US military strike, Reuters reported, citing Russia’s Interfax news agency.

“We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov yesterday, and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to the Russian initiative,” Interfax quoted Foreign minister Walid al-Muallem as telling the speaker of Russia’s lower house parliament house in Moscow on Tuesday.

He said Syria had agreed because this would “remove the grounds for American aggression,” the report said.

Russia said earlier it was working on an “effective, concrete” plan for putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, while France said it planned to float a UN Security Council resolution aimed at forcing Damascus to make its weapons programme public and then dismantle it.

The diplomatic push over Syria’s chemicals weapons gathered momentum on Tuesday, a day after the Russian foreign minister suggested the measure for averting US plans for a military strike against Syria.

France on Tuesday said it would start the process for a new UN Security Council resolution, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which is militarily enforceable.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the resolution would propose putting any Syrian chemical weapons under international control before moving to dismantle it.

Fabius said the resolution, based around five points, would demand that Syria “bring fully to light” its chemical weapons programme. The measure would also set up international inspections and controls of the dismantling process, and would carry “very serious consequences” if the commitment were violated.

Syria has welcomed the Russian proposal and US President Barack Obama said he saw a possible breakthrough in the crisis but remained sceptical.

Obama had argued that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must be punished militarily for what Washington says was a poison gas attack that killed hundreds in the Damascus suburbs on August 21.

Obama described the Russian plan as “positive”, saying he would consider it and that military strikes would “absolutely” be put on hold if that were to happen.

The Syrian National Council, meanwhile, in a statement released on Tuesday, called on the international community and the UN to hold Assad’s regime accountable, and accused the Russians of trying to play for time.

Iran and China welcomed the Russian proposal on Tuesday.

“As long as it is a proposal that helps ameliorate the current tense situation in Syria, is beneficial to maintaining
peace and stability in Syria and the region, and is beneficial to a political resolution, the international community ought to give it positive consideration,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

The Arab League chief added his voice on Tuesday and also expressed support for the proposal.

Nabil Elaraby told reporters that the Arab League has always been in favour of a “political resolution.”

Israel, however, voiced scepticism about the plan with President Shimon Peres warning on Monday that negotiations would be “tough” and that Syria is “not trustworthy.”

Avigdor Lieberman, who chairs the parliament’s foreign affairs and defence committee, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that Syria could use the idea to stall military action.  

“Assad is winning time and lots of it,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies