Russia supports U.S. call for Syria to turn over chemical weapons to international community for dismantling

Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 9, 2013. SOURCE:

After weeks of denying that the Syrian government used chemical weapons, Russia on Monday announced its support for a U.S. proposal calling for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons stockpiles to the international community for dismantling and disposal. 

At a joint press conference with British Foreign Minister William Hague in London, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that military strikes could be averted if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turns 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 a full accounting for that,” Kerry said. “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”

Read more: Syria: Chemical Weapons

Kerry’s pessimism, though understandable, may have been premature. Just hours later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Russia will press Syria to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile.

“If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus,” said Lavrov, who met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem today. “We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons.”

Lavrov’s announcement was a stunning reversal of Russia’s position on Syria. As recently as Sept. 4th, Russia maintained that it was the Syrian opposition – not Assad’s forces – that possessed and used chemical weapons.

According to the Syrian Arab News Agency, Moallem stated that “Syria welcomes Russia’s proposal to prevent U.S. aggression.” (Moallem’s statement was issued shortly after the Syrian Information Minister denied again that the government had used chemical weapons and that Syria has “the right to defend its people”.)

If Russia is able to convince Syria agree to comply with the proposal, this could be the significant breakthrough needed to prevent further military escalation of the conflict in Syria, which has killed more than 100,000 people and forced 2 million Syrians to seek refuge in neighboring countries.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he welcomes the proposals set forth by Kerry and Lavrov.

Moon indicated that he is considering similar recommendations on the transfer and disposal of chemical weapons when he presents the U.N. inspection team’s findings to the Security Council.

“I’m considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed,” said Moon. “And I urge again that Syria should become a party to OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons].”

Moon also assured that the international community will take “very swift action” to ensure the security of the chemical weapons stocks and their proper disposal. He emphasized the need to convene the second Geneva conference to achieve a negotiated political solution to the Syrian conflict.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a national address on Syria tomorrow evening, and the U.S. Congress is expected to begin voting on Wednesday on the authorization for the use of limited military force in response to the Aug. 21st chemical weapons attack in Ghouta. The attack reportedly killed more than 1,400 Syrians, including at least 400 children.


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