Moscow/Geneva: Efforts to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control began today with top US and Russian diplomats meeting in Geneva to discuss the issue, even as Russian President Vladimir Putin made a personal appeal to war-weary Americans over the looming crisis.
Talks in Geneva between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on a four-step plan, which includes Syria joining the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, will last till tomorrow, and could be extended to Saturday.
The talks are meant to come up with a draft plan on how and when Syria will hand over its cache of chemical weapons.
Before leaving for the talks, Lavrov told Russian media that there was still "a chance for peace" in Syria.
"I am sure that there is a chance for peace in Syria...We cannot let it slip away," Lavrov said.
The plan, proposed by Russia this week, is aimed at averting any US-led military strike against the embattled Assad regime, which the US holds responsible for killing over 1,000 civilians in an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21.
While Russia`s Kommersant daily made public the details of the four-point plan for the first time today, an article written by Putin appeared simultaneously on The New York Times, in which he spoke "directly to the American people and their political leaders" on the Syrian issue.
Putin - in the article `A Plea for Caution From Russia` - warned the UN could suffer the same fate as its predecessor, the League of Nations, if "influential countries... Take military action without Security Council authorisation".
"The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the Pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria`s borders," he wrote.
Putin also reiterated Russia`s view that the August 21 attack was probably carried out by opposition forces "to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons".
Outlining the main points of the proposal, Kommersant said as a first step, Syria would become a member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Secondly, Syria will declare the location of the chemical weapons arsenals and where they are made. Thirdly, Syria will allow OPCW inspectors into the country to examine the weapons. And finally, step would be deciding, in cooperation with the inspectors, how to destroy the weapons.
Meanwhile, the rebel Free Syrian Army dismissed the Russian plan, saying it did not go far enough. "(We) request not only that the chemical arsenal is put under international control, but (also) to judge the author of the crime before the International Criminal Court," said Gen Salim Idriss of the Free Syrian Army.
Yesterday, US President Barack Obama put military strike against Syria on hold but vowed to attack the embattled regime if Russian brokered diplomacy fails to yield any result.
Obama, facing implacable opposition to a military attack in Syria in the US Congress and from war-weary Americans, vowed to pursue diplomacy to remove Syria`s chemical weapons but kept his military on high alert to launch strike if necessary.
Obama had termed as an "encouraging" sign the proposal, put forward by Russia - a key ally of Syria - and supported by its allies China and Iran.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said UN inspectors probing the alleged chemical weapons attack will "probably" publish their report on September 16.
The UN inspectors last month collected samples from Damascus as part of their probe into the August 21 chemical weapons attack.