US considers Russian plan to decommission Syria’s chemical weapons
UN Security Council permanent members discuss proposal ahead of US-Russia meeting
US president Barack Obama pauses at the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial in Washington yesterday. Photograph: Gary Cameron/Reuters.
Russia has handed the US a plan for putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control ahead of a crunch meeting today between the two countries to find a diplomatic deal to avert a US military strike against the Assad regime.
The handover was reported by Russian independent news agency Interfax from Kazakhstan. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was visiting Kazakhstan before departing to Geneva for today’s meeting with US secretary of state John Kerry to attempt to negotiate a political solution to the crisis.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Russia’s proposal involved a “very explicit” plan to have the Syrian government’s arsenal of chemical weapons “secured, removed from Assad’s possession, placed under international control and ultimately destroyed”.
In a televised address late on Tuesday, US president Barack Obama said he would delay plans to seek congressional support for military action against Syria to pursue the “diplomatic path” centred on Russia’s proposal. He warned that the US would keep the use of force as an option in case it failed.
Mr Obama’s spokesman said yesterday that it “would be irresponsible not to explore this potential diplomatic resolution”.
The US was seeking a “demonstration of sincerity and a verifiable way” to secure the weapons, remove them from Bashar al-Assad’s control and ultimately destroy them, he said.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, the UK, France, China and Russia – met yesterday afternoon for initial discussions on drafting a resolution to give effect to Russia’s plan.
The US, UK and France are working on a draft UN resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons proposed by the French. However, they face opposition from Russia on the strength of the language and a timetable of disarmament in any resolution, and whether it should be backed by the threat of force if Syria reneges on a deal.
Sergei Rogov, a Russian diplomat at the UN in Geneva and an expert on US relations, told Russian state-owned news agency Itar-Tass that the Lavrov-Kerry talks had only a “50/50 chance” of successfully developing a diplomatic resolution. The talks between the men could last until Saturday.
Mr Obama is leaning on Syrian ally Russia as the unlikely peacemaker in resolving the crisis over Syria, but is approaching talks with scepticism on the prospects of a deal being achieved. “It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments,” the president said in his televised speech from the White House.
The US has accused the Syrian regime led by Dr Assad of carrying out a gas attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21st, killing 1,429 people, in the worst attack of the country’s civil war. The Syrians reject this, blaming opposition forces for the attack.
Dr Assad’s government has agreed in principle with Russia’s decommissioning proposal.
As Mr Obama struggled to win over congressional support for military action, a cross-party group of nine senators sought to draft a proposal to be voted on by US lawmakers that would sanction the use of force if Dr Assad failed to put his chemical weapons under UN international control by a certain date.
As attempts to find a peaceful solution developed while the push for military action was halted, Russia sent another three warships to the eastern Mediterranean, bringing the number of warships there to 10.