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Syrian Government Accepts Plan For Chemical-Weapons Handover

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem says Syria has accepted a Russian initiative on chemical weapons.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem says Syria has accepted a Russian initiative on chemical weapons.
The Syrian government says it has agreed to a Russian initiative to put its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent dismantling.

Speaking after a meeting in Moscow on September 10, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said Damascus agreed to the initiative to "uproot U.S. aggression."

Russia says it is now working on a "clear, concrete" plan. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow is discussing the details with Damascus and that the plan would be presented to other nations soon.

"Literally, right now, we are in contact with the Syrian side, and we expect to present this plan in the near future [to the international community]," Lavrov said. "We will be ready to continue working on it and to rework it with the participation of the UN secretary-general, with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and with the participation of members of the UN Security Council."

Cautious Welcome

The weapons-handover proposal -- announced on September 9 to avert threatened U.S. strikes on Syria -- received a cautious welcome in Washington.

Speaking in a series of television interviews, U.S. President Barack Obama said he had ordered Secretary of State John Kerry to speak with Russian officials about the viability of the proposal.

Obama told CNN that "it's possible that we can get a breakthrough." But he also expressed concern that the idea could be used by the Syrian regime as a "stalling or delaying tactic."

"It's a potentially positive development," Obama said. "I have to say that it's unlikely that we would have arrived at that point, where there were even public statements like that, without a credible military threat to deal with the chemical weapons use inside of Syria."

'Not Waiting For Long'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told members of Congress the Obama administration was ready to consider the Russian proposal but said "we’re not waiting for long." Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Kerry said any proposal to let Syria surrender its chemical weapons must be “swift, real, and verifiable.”

A preliminary vote in the Senate to authorize U.S. military force scheduled for September 11 has been postponed to give the diplomatic proposal more time.

Obama was expected to address the nation later on September 10 about the Syrian crisis. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama would press ahead with his plan to ask Congress to approve the use of military force in Syria over the government’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

U.S. Senator John McCain, meanwhile, said the United States has no choice but to allow time for a new diplomatic offensive on Syria to "play out," even though he is skeptical that the plan is genuine.

The United States accuses Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces of killing more than 1,400 people in a poison-gas attack on August 21 on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

The Syrian government has denied carrying out the attack, instead accusing rebel forces of responsibility.

Opposition's Opposition

In a statement published late on September 9, the opposition Syrian National Coalition described the Russian plan as a "political maneuver" that will waste time and cause more deaths.

The Syrian National Coalition added that "the violation of international law requires an appropriate international response."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon backed the Russian idea. Britain, France, and Germany expressed concern that the plan might be a distraction tactic but broadly welcomed it. China and Iran also welcomed the move.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France will propose a UN Security Council resolution setting out conditions for Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control and accept that they will be dismantled.

Fabius told a news conference in Paris the resolution would warn of "extremely serious" consequences for Damascus if it breached those conditions.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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