WASHINGTON/DAMASCUS – US President Barack Obama has welcomed a Russian proposal for Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control even as the US, UK and France are to table a UN Security Council resolution but Russia has already indicated opposition .
The US stand opens up the first real chance of a political settlement to the crisis.
The US has warned that the Russian plan on Syrian chemical weapons must not be an excuse for “delays and avoidance”.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the plan must be “swift and verifiable” and warned its implementation would be “exceedingly difficult”.
Syria has earlier said it accepted the Russian plan to put the chemical weapons under international control.
In a series of prime time television interviews, Obama described Russia’s offer as a “possible breakthrough” and a “potentially positive development” in the standoff with the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Senate majority leader Harry Reid postponed a crucial vote to authorise military action.
Obama conceded in an NBC interview on Monday night that he might lose his campaign in Congress for authorisation. “I wouldn’t say I’m confident” of the outcome, he said, adding that he had not decided what to do if it voted against him, said the Guardian.
In an interview with ABC television, Obama clarified that the pause button had indeed been pressed in Washington’s drive to strike Syria.
“I don’t anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future,” said Obama.
He added: “So I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the United States for the international community, the Russians and the Syrians to work with us and say is there a way to resolve this.”
Russia’s proposal came after US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said in London that the only way for Syria to avoid the threat of a US attack would be for it to hand over all its chemical weapons within a week.
Russia’s reaction and Syria’s immediate agreement set off a diplomatic scramble in Washington as administration officials sought to assess whether it offered a way out for Obama from what has become an increasingly intractable problem.
Some termed Kerry’s remarks as a blunder, and the Department of State at first attempted to play down their significance, saying Kerry had been speaking “rhetorically” about a situation that was unlikely to materialise.
But Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov immediately raised the prospect of international observers supervising such a handover. “If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus,” Lavrov said.
The resolution will call on Syria to publicly declare that it has a chemical weapons programme, place it under international control and dismantle it.
France proposed a resolution to the UN security council aimed at forcing Syria to make public its chemical weapons programme, place it entirely under international control and dismantle it, or face “extremely serious consequences”.
The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said France had reacted with “interest but also with caution” to the Russian proposal that Syria place its weapons under international control.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he had spoken to Obama about the issue, said: “If this is a serious proposal then we should act accordingly and I think a UN Security Council resolution is a good idea.”
Announcing the plans for the UN resolution, Cameron said: “It is important to make sure that this isn’t some delaying tactic, that this isn’t some ruse.
Syrian foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem was quoted telling the speaker of the Russian parliament that the terms decided upon with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov would “remove the grounds for American aggression”.
“We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to the Russian initiative,” Moualem said.