Assad vows to hand over chemical weapons ahead of talks
By Jo Biddle ,AFPGENEVA -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed to hand over Syria's chemical weapons Thursday as Moscow and Washington were set to begin high-stakes talks on a Russian plan to avert U.S.-led military action against his regime.
September 13, 2013, 12:06 am TWN
Speaking to Russian television, Assad said Syria would place its chemical weapons under foreign control in line with Moscow's proposal.
“Syria is handing over chemical weapons under international control because of Russia,” Assad was quoted as telling Rossiya 24 state news channel.
“U.S. threats have not affected the decision,” he said, adding that Syria planned to file documents to the United Nations to sign an agreement on chemical arms.
Assad's move came as the U.S. and Russia prepared to meet in Geneva for talks on the proposal for Syria to open its doors to inspectors and eliminate its chemical weapons.
Backed by a large team of experts, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Officials from the two countries were to pore over Moscow's plan — an 11th-hour proposal that led U.S. President Barack Obama to put off threatened U.S. military action against the Syrian regime.
Washington wants to see if Assad is serious about putting his chemical weapons stockpile under international control, amid allegations the regime used sarin gas in an attack near Damascus last month.
Ahead of the talks, a senior U.S. official said Washington was urging Syria to “declare all of their stockpile quickly.”
The official said Washington would be asking for specific action from Damascus to test the regime's sincerity and discussing the “different modalities” of destroying Assad's chemical weapons and production facilities.
“It's doable, but difficult,” the official said.
Lavrov voiced optimism ahead of the talks, saying during a visit to Kazakhstan: “I am sure that there is a chance for peace in Syria... We cannot let it slip away.”
In a speech quoted by Russian news agencies, Lavrov said he was prepared to “ensure Syria's adherence to the chemical weapon ban convention.”
The United States and its main backer of military strikes on Syria France have warned they will not allow the chemical weapons plan to become a delaying tactic in Syria's brutal war, saying the threat of military force remains on the table.