Syria accepts Russia`s proposal to surrender chemical weapons; war averted?
Zee Media Bureau
Beirut: In a major development, Syria`s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Tuesday said that his country has accepted a Russian proposal to surrender control over its chemical weapons.
"Syria has accepted Russian proposal to surrender control over its chemical weapons," Syrian foreign minister said.
Meanwhile, Russia`s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is now working with Syria to prepare a detailed plan of action, which will be presented shortly.
Lavrov said that Russia will then be ready to finalize the plan together with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The remark regarding possible handover of chemical weapons was first made by US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday when he addressed a joint news briefing with UK counterpart William Hague.
Kerry said, "He (Assad) could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week - turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it) but he isn`t about to do it and it can`t be done".
"Such a move would be the only way for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to avoid a US military strike" Kerry added.
President Obama has been urging world leaders and US lawmakers to endorse military action as a way of sending a message of condemnation and deterrence to Assad, whose government allegedly authorized nerve gas attacks outside Damascus on August 21 that killed more than 1,400 civilians.
Even as former secretary of state Hillary Clinton was in favour of military strike against Syria, after a meeting with US President Barack Obama, she said, "Syrian chemical arms handover would be important step."
The Russia`s proposal to stave off threatened US strikes on Syria through a handover of chemical weapons received a cautious welcome today even from backers of military action, with US President Barack Obama describing the idea as a "potential breakthrough".
After the announcement was made, UK Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed Syria`s decision to hand over the chemical weapons which would have otherwise invited US military strikes and would have caused unpredictable repercussions.
The proposal put forward by Russia - a key ally of Syria - is a dramatic shift after America was gearing up for weeks to lauch attacks against the embattled regime.
Earlier in the day, Russia announced that it was holding talks with the Bashar al-Assad regime to formulate a "workable, precise and concrete" plan for the smooth transfer of the chemical weapons.
"We (Russia) are currently working on preparing a workable, precise and concrete plan and for this there are literally right now, in these minutes, contacts with the Syrian side," Lavrov said today.
"And we expect to present this plan soon and we will be ready to work on it with the UN secretary general, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, with the participation of members of the UN Security Council," he said.
Meanwhile in separate interviews with six US news channels, Obama said, "If Syrian President gives up his chemical weapons, a military strike would absolutely be on pause." He also called the Russian proposal a "potentially significant breakthrough."
"Absolutely, if, in fact, that happened," Obama said when asked if the military strike was on pause if Assad yields control of his chemical weapons to international authority.
"That`s in our national security interest. If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference. And now the key is, can we see a sense of urgency?" Obama told ABC News.
Asserting that he always preferred a diplomatic resolution
to the Syrian crisis, Obama said, "I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a non-military way."
Obama, unsure of getting enough Congressional support on Syria, said he would take a final decision after talking to American people directly.
According a media report, Obama could fall short of 50 votes needed to get Senate authorisation for a military strike against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people.
The US had alleged that sarin - a deadly nerve agent - was used by the Assad regime near Damascus on August 21 that left at least 1,429 civilians, including over 400 children, dead. The Syrian government denied the charge, saying rebels had used the deadly gas to defame it.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today said France would place forward a resolution in the UN Security Council to press Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons.
The proposal would also condemn the chemical weapons attack in Damascus, he said.
In Cairo, the Arab League head Nabil Elaraby expressed the group`s backing for the Russian proposal, saying the League has been always in favour of a "political resolution."
But the Russian initiative failed to bring cheers among Syrian rebels, who dismissed it as a manoeuvre to escape punishment.
Meanwile, the main opposition bloc - Syrian National Coalition - said the proposal "aims to procrastinate and will lead to more death and destruction of the Syrian people."
"A violation of international law should lead to an international retaliation that is proportional in size," it said in a statement.
"Crimes against humanity cannot be dropped by giving political concessions or by handing over the weapons used in these crimes."
With PTI inputs
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