Syria says it "welcomes" Russian Proposal To Place Chemical Weapons Under International Control

By: 13 News (Posted by Josh Mabry)
By: 13 News (Posted by Josh Mabry)
MGN Online

MGN Online

MOSCOW (CBS)-- Syria's foreign minister says his country welcomes Russia's proposal for it to place its chemical weapons under international control and then dismantle them quickly to avert U.S. strikes.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem stopped short of saying that the Syrian government had actually accepted the proposal.

"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.

The statement came a few hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Syrian President Bashar Assad could resolve the crisis surrounding the alleged use of chemical weapons by his forces by surrendering control of "every single bit" of his arsenal to the international community by the end of the week.

Hours after Kerry's statement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would urge Syria to quickly put its chemical weapons under international control, then dismantle them.

Lavrov, who held talks with al-Moallem in Moscow earlier in the day, said he expected a quick positive answer from Damascus.

Al-Moallem, however, wouldn't give any further details in his brief statement and didn't take any questions.

"Based on the Russian foreign minister's comment, it appeared to diplomats at the U.N. that either there is an agreement for Security Council action in the works, or the Russians are buying time to avoid U.S. military action," CBS News Pamela Falk reports.

Asked by CBS News about Lavrov's announcement that Russia would press Syria to place chemical weapons under international control after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Charlie Rose that he could not even acknowledge their weapons stockpile, the U.N. secretary-general said on Monday that he welcomed the proposal and would press Syria to join the chemical weapons convention, Falk reports.

The Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon said that if the U.N. inspector's report confirms the use of chemical weapons, "then this would surely be something around which the Security Council could unite in response -- and indeed something that should merit universal condemnation."

But, Falk reports, the Secretary General was dismissive and critical of foreign intelligence on the August chemical weapons attack, saying, "I do know there has been significant speculation regarding a major use of chemical agents on August 21st leading to the death of hundreds of civilian people."

Earlier Lavrov said that he handed over the proposal to al-Moallem and expects a "quick, and, hopefully, positive answer."

His 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 Assad hand over control of chemical weapons.

Speaking earlier in the day, Lavrov denied that Russia was trying to sponsor any deal "behind the back of the Syrian people."

The Russian move comes as Obama, who has blamed Assad for killing hundreds of his own people in a chemical attack last month, is pressing for a limited strike against the Syrian government. It has denied launching the attack, insisting along with its ally Russia that the attack was launched by the rebels to drag the U.S. into war.

On Monday, the White House said 14 more nations have signed on to a statement blaming Assad's government for a chemical weapons attack and calling for a strong international response. That means the list has grown to 25 from the 11 - including the U.S. - who initially signed on.

Lavrov and al-Moallem said after their talks that U.N. chemical weapons experts should complete their probe and present their findings to the U.N. Security Council.

Al-Moallem said his government was ready to host the U.N. team, and insisted that Syria is ready to use all channels to convince the Americans that it wasn't behind the attack.

He added that Syria was ready for "full cooperation with Russia to remove any pretext for aggression."

Neither minister, however, offered any evidence to back their claim of rebel involvement in the chemical attack.

Lavrov said that Russia will continue to promote a peaceful settlement and may try to convene a gathering of all Syrian opposition figures to join in negotiations. He added that a U.S. attack on Syria would deal a fatal blow to peace efforts.

Lavrov wouldn't say how Russia could respond to a possible U.S. attack on Syria, saying that "we wouldn't like to proceed from a negative scenario and would primarily take efforts to prevent a military intervention."

Putin said that Moscow would keep providing assistance to Syria in case of U.S. attack, but he and other Russian officials have made clear that Russia has no intention of engaging in hostilities.

© 2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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