US official to 'Post': Russia proposal to put Syria chemical arms under global control will go ignored

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
September 9, 2013 19:10

Russia proposes Syria put chemical arms under int'l control to avoid US strike; Damascus "welcomes" proposal, but stops short of saying Assad accepts it; US official: "There's no mechanism to implement proposal."

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)

A US government official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that a Russian proposal urging Syria to place its chemical weapons arsenal under international control, in order to avoid a US strike, would be ignored.

"There's no mechanism to implement what the Russians are proposing," said the official.

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The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is the only organization that has monitoring power over chemical arms, the official noted. But the OPCW only has jurisdiction over signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which Syria is not a member. And the OPCW does not tolerate the existence of such weapons, but oversees their destruction, which the Russians have not proposed.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who called a news conference to announce the proposal, said he had already conveyed the idea to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem at talks in Moscow.

Moualem, 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 President Bashar Assad's 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.

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The Russian government was responding to comments made off the cuff by US Secretary of State John Kerry during a press availability with British Foreign Minister William Hague on Monday.

"He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week— turn it over, all of it," Kerry said, throwing up his hands in London. "But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously."

In response to questions about the Russian proposal, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that he may ask the Security Council to demand Syria move its chemical arms stocks to Syrian sites where they can be safely stored and destroyed.

Speaking to reporters in New York, 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.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday that Syria should be encouraged to place its chemical weapons arsenal under international supervision, but said the world needed to ensure that discussion of such an idea did not become a distraction.

"If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use under international supervision clearly that would be a big step forward," Cameron told parliament. "We have to be careful though to make sure this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the table."

Reuters contributed to this report.


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