Syria 'agrees' to arms plan as France pushes UN ultimatum
AFPMOSCOW/WASHINGTON -- Syria on Tuesday said it had accepted a Russian proposal to hand over its chemical weapons to avert military strikes, as France kept up the pressure with a U.N. resolution threatening force if the regime failed to comply.
September 11, 2013, 12:11 am TWN
The surprise initiative from President Bashar al-Assad's key ally has been welcomed around the world, albeit cautiously in some quarters, including by President Barack Obama who said it could “potentially be a significant breakthrough.”
Only the opposition fighting Assad's regime for control of Syria openly denounced the Russian idea, describing it as a political manoeuvre that would waste time and cause more deaths.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov unexpectedly raised the proposal on Monday after meeting his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem, setting off a dizzying flurry of diplomatic manoeuvres around the world as leaders scrambled to respond to the gesture.
“Already (yesterday) in the evening we agreed with the Russian initiative,” Muallem said on the second day of his visit to Moscow, saying the move would “knock the chair from under the legs of the American aggression.”
Russia hopes the plan — which calls on Damascus to place chemical weapons under international control and have them destroyed — could avert threatened U.S. military action as retribution for a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21 which the West blames on the regime.
US Still Seeking Support for Military Action
The United States will engage allies on how serious Syria is about surrendering its chemical weapons, but stands by its drive to muster support for possible military action, the White House said Tuesday.
Spokesman Jay Carney spoke on MSNBC hours after Syria confirmed it had embraced the Russian proposal.
“We will engage and have been engaged in intense conversations with our friends and allies internationally about this process, about moving forward and testing the seriousness of the Syrians when it comes to the potential for them giving up their chemical weapons stockpile,” Carney said.
Even though Syria now says it is willing to surrender its chemical weapons, Obama will still make the case for possible military action, Carney said.
“He'll be building support for calling on Congress as well as the American people to understand and support the action that he's proposed,” Carney said.
Meanwhile France, which has said it will join the United States in military action, said it planned to present an ultimatum to the U.N. Security Council later in the day demanding Syria place the weapons under international control — or face the use of force.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the proposed resolution would be presented under chapter seven of the U.N. charter, which provides a basis for military action.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said London would back any “credible” U.N. resolution on Syria's chemical weapons program, but insisted it must contain the threat of force.
Obama on Monday said he had not taken military strikes off the table but in agreeing to consider the Russian initiative, he had effectively pushed back the timetable for possible action.
He said the Russian plan “could potentially be a significant breakthrough.”
“But we have to be sceptical because this is not how we've seen them operate over the last couple of years.”