Moscow seizes Kerry’s offer on Syrian stockpiles; a rhetorical phrase, say U.S. officials

The chances of averting a U.S. military strike against Syria suddenly looked up on Monday as Moscow jumped at Washington’s suggestion that it could call off the attack if Damascus surrendered its stockpiles of chemical weapons.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was ready to take up with the Syrian government the proposal made by U.S. Secretary John Kerry.

Mr. Kerry said on Monday President Bashar al-Assad could get a chance of avoiding military action by turning over his chemical weapons to the international community.

“Turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting for that,” Mr Kerry told reporters in London, adding: “But he [Mr. Assad] isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done.”

U.S. officials stressed this was a rhetorical phrase rather than an actual proposal, but Mr. Lavrov made it clear that he took Mr. Kerry at his words.

He said he had already made the proposal to Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and hoped for a “quick and positive answer”.

“We do not know if Syria agrees to this, but if placing the chemical weapons under international control helps avoid military strikes, then we will immediately get to work on this,” said Mr. Lavrov in a statement posted on the Foreign Ministry website.

“We are calling on the Syrian authorities to reach agreement, not only on putting chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and then joining the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

“We have already handed over this proposal to Minister Muallem, who is in Moscow, and hope for a quick and positive answer.”

‘Initiative welcome’

In a prompt response to Mr. Lavrov’s appeal, the Syrian Foreign Minister said Damascus accepted the Russian proposal.

“I have attentively listened to Mr. Lavrov’s statement,” the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Muallem as saying. “In this connection I declare that Syria, guided by its concern for the lives of its citizens and the security of the country, welcomes the Russian initiative.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the Russian plan to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control is “hugely welcome”, but warned that it must not become a “distraction” from resolving the crisis over poison gas attacks in the country.

Meanwhile, an unnamed U.S. official struck down the idea. “There’s no mechanism to implement what the Russians are proposing,” the official was quoted as saying by Israel’s Jerusalem Post.

More In: World | International | News