Russia urges Syria to surrender control of chemical weapons

US says Assad could end crisis by allowing international community to take over arsenal

Russia said today it will push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control.

The surprise announcement by Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov came a few hours after US secretary of state John Kerry said Syrian president Bashar Assad could resolve the crisis by surrendering control of "every single bit" of his arsenal to the international community by the end of the week.

Mr Kerry added that he thought Dr Assad "isn't about to do it," but Mr Lavrov, who just ended a round of talks in Moscow with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem, said Moscow would try to convince the Syrians.

“If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus,” Mr Lavrov said.

“We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons,” he said.

Mr Lavrov's statement followed media reports alleging that Russian president Vladimir Putin, who discussed Syria with president Barack Obama during the group of 20 summit in St Petersburg last week, sought to negotiate a deal that would have Dr Assad hand over control of chemical weapons.

Mr Lavrov said that he has already handed over the proposal to Mr Moallem and expects a “quick, and, hopefully, positive answer.”

In response, Mr Moallem said Syria welcomes the Russian proposa, praising the Kremlin for seeking to “prevent American aggression”.

Mr Moallem, who spoke to reporters through an interpreter after Russia expressed hope the proposal could avert military strikes against Syria, stopped short of saying explicitly that the Assad government accepted it. “I state that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership’s concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and also motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression against our people,” he said.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton backed Mr Obama’s attempts to seek military action against Syria and urged Congress to support him. Today she said it would be an “important step” if the Syrian government of president Bashar al-Assad immediately ceded control of chemical weapons.

“The Assad regime’s inhumane use of weapons of mass destruction against innocent men, women and children violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order,” Mrs Clinton said.

Earlier today, Mr Kerry said an "unbelievably small, limited" military strike will be enough to halt Syria's use of chemical weapons and hasten a political settlement. As Congress got set to debate a US intervention, Mr Kerry sought to reassure the public that the Obama administration won't let a Syrian campaign evolve into a years-long commitment with ground troops, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We're not talking about war, we're not going to war," Mr Kerry said in a press conference in London today after a three- day mission to Europe. He spoke of a "limited, very targeted, very short-term effort".

Meanwhile, in a bid to help the UN Security Council overcome its “embarrassing paralysis,” the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he may ask it to demand Syria move its chemical arms stocks to sites where they can be safely stored and destroyed.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Mr Ban said he may also ask the 15-nation body to demand that Syria join the international anti-chemical weapons convention, a treaty that Damascus has never signed.

With Mr Obama preparing to make his case in television interviews later tonight to an American public and their representatives who remain wary of involvement in another distant war, the armaments proposal could complicate his task. The outcome of votes in Congress remains hard to predict.

Agencies