NEW YORK/WASHINGTON - A Russian plan for Syria’s chemical weapons to be put under international control has sparked immediate disputes over resolutions at the United Nations.
The UK, US and France want a timetable and consequences of failure spelt out, and Washington has warned it will ‘not fall for stalling tactics’.
Russia said any draft putting the blame on Syria was unacceptable and urged a declaration backing its initiative.
Syria has said it accepts the Russian proposal on its chemical stockpile. Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on Tuesday that Damascus was willing to become a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Russian Interfax news agency reported,
“We are ready to honour our commitments under this convention, including providing information about these weapons,” he said.
A UN Security Council meeting on Syria planned for 2000 GMT on Tuesday was postponed at the request of Russia, which had called the talks, council envoys said.
No reason was given for calling off the closed talks among the 15 council members. “The meeting has been called off until further notice,” said a council diplomat.
Russia will send the United States details of its proposal to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile later Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said.
The details would come during the “course of the day,” Kerry said, shortly after talking with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov by telephone. But he insisted that any plan must lay out “consequences” if it turns out to be a delaying tactic to avoid US military action.
Reacting to new developments, President Barack Obama said he would “run to ground” a proposal outlined by the Russians.
Obama, who conducted a half dozen television interviews on Monday afternoon to try to drum up support for his call for military action against Syria said he would ‘absolutely’ put off a punitive strike if Assad gave up his weapons.
Meanwhile, France said it would draft a UN Security Council resolution to put the plan into effect, and China and Iran voiced support.
“It’s possible if it’s real,” Obama told CNN in an interview. “And, you know, I think it’s certainly a positive development when, the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures toward dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we’ve been asking for not just over the last week or the last month, but for the last couple of years.”
“If we can exhaust these diplomatic efforts and come up with a formula that gives the international community a verifiable, enforceable mechanism to deal with these chemical weapons in Syria, then I’m all for it,” Obama added in an interview with PBS NewsHour.
“But we’re going to have to see specifics,” Obama said. “And I think it is reasonable to assume that we would not be at this point if there were not a credible military threat standing behind the norm against the use of chemical weapons.”
Obama also expressed pessimism about Congress approving a military strike against Syria, telling NBC News in a separate interview “I wouldn’t say I’m confident” about the measure passing.”
In Washington, the White House said it will “want to take a hard look” at the Russian proposal.
“We’ll talk to the Russians about it,” said deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken.
Blinken said the proposal comes in the “context of U.S. action and the pressure the president is exerting.”
Also in Washington, former secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Syria surrendering chemical stockpiles would be an “important step” to averting a US military strike, but it can’t be an “excuse for delay or obstruction” by the Bashar Assad regime.
In Moscow, Lavrov said Russia would urge Syria to concentrate its chemical weapons in certain areas under international oversight, then dismantle them.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urged Syria to immediately agree to transfer chemical weapons and chemical precursors to a safe place within the country for international destruction.
Ban said he would urge the Security Council to demand an immediate chemical weapons transfer if UN inspectors determine such weapons were used in an attack Aug. 21 in a suburb of Damascus.
“I am sure that the international community will take quick measures to make sure that these chemical weapons reserves are stored in a safe place and are to be destroyed,” Ban said.
Lavrov said UN chemical weapons experts should complete their probe of the attack and present their findings to the UN Security Council. “We have agreed to push for the soonest return of inspectors,” Lavrov said.
The arms control treaty, signed by 189 countries, bans the use and production of chemical weapons and calls for their destruction. Burma, also known as Myanmar, and Israel have signed the agreement but not ratified it.
In an interview with Charlie Rose for CBS’ This Morning, Assad denied using chemical weapons to attack his own people, but he would neither confirm nor deny his government kept such weapons. If they exist, he said they are ‘in centralised control’.
Assad said his troops were attacked by chemical weapons and were not the aggressors.
“Our soldiers in another area were attacked chemically,” he told Rose. “Our soldiers. They went to the hospital — as casualties because of chemical weapons.”