Russia's President Vladimir Putin makes a statement on
issues connected with chemical weapons in Syria.
REUTERS/Michael Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin
Syria has accepted a Russian proposal to give up chemical
weapons and win a reprieve from US military strikes but serious
differences emerged between Russia and the United States that
could obstruct a UN resolution to seal a deal.
Even as the White House said it was determined to push ahead
with a congressional resolution authorizing force, Russian
President Vladimir Putin said the weapons plan would only
succeed if Washington and its allies rule out military
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in a statement
shown on Russian state television that Damascus was committed
to the Russian initiative.
"We want to join the convention on the prohibition of
chemical weapons. We are ready to observe our obligations in
accordance with that convention, including providing all
information about these weapons," Moualem said.
"We are ready to declare the location of the chemical
weapons, stop production of the chemical weapons, and show
these (production) facilities to representatives of Russia
and other United Nations member states," he said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington believes the
proposal must be endorsed by the UN Security Council "in
order to have the confidence that this has the force it ought
Moscow has previously vetoed three resolutions that would
have condemned the Syrian government over the conflict.
The latest proposal "can work only if we hear that the
American side and all those who support the United States in
this sense reject the use of force," Putin said in televised
Kerry and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress the
threat of military action was critical to forcing Assad to
bend on his chemical weapons.
"For this diplomatic option to have a chance of succeeding,
the threat of a US military action - the credible, real
threat of US military action - must continue," Hagel told the
House Armed Services Committee.
US officials said Kerry would meet Lavrov in Geneva on
Thursday for further talks.
Amid the whirlwind of diplomatic activity focused on the
response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on a Damascus
neighborhood on Aug. 21, the civil war resumed in earnest,
President Bashar al-Assad's jets again bombing rebel
positions in the capital.
The United States and its allies remain skeptical about the
Russian proposal and President Barack Obama sought to keep
the pressure on Syria by maintaining his drive for
congressional backing for a possible military strike while
exploring a diplomatic alternative.
France wants a binding UN Security Council resolution that
would provide a framework for controlling and eliminating the
weapons and says that Syria would face "extremely serious"
consequences if it violated the conditions.
Britain and the United States said they would work on quickly
formulating a resolution.
The UN Security Council initially called a closed door
meeting asked for by Russia to discuss its proposal to place
Syria's chemical weapons under international control, but the
meeting was later cancelled at Russia's request.
French officials said their draft resolution was designed to
make sure the Russian proposal would have teeth, by allowing
military action if Assad is uncooperative.
"It was extremely well played by the Russians, but we didn't
want someone else to go to the UN with a resolution that was
weak. This is on our terms and the principles are
established. It puts Russia in a situation where they can't
take a step back after putting a step forward," said a French
Russia, however, made clear it wanted to take the lead.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his French counterpart
that Moscow would propose a UN draft declaration supporting
its initiative to put Syria's chemical weapons under
international control, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a
Russia also told France that a proposal to adopt a Security
Council resolution holding the Syrian government responsible
for the possible use of chemical weapons was unacceptable.
The United States and France had been poised to launch
missile strikes to punish Assad's forces, which they blame
for the chemical weapons attack. Syria denies it was
responsible and, with the backing of Moscow, blames rebels
for staging the attacks to provoke US intervention.
The White House said Obama, British Prime Minister David
Cameron and French President Francois Hollande had agreed in
a telephone call on their preference for a diplomatic
solution, but that they should continue to prepare for "a
full range of responses."
Obama asked Congress on Tuesday to delay votes on authorizing
military strikes in order to give Russia time to get Syria to
surrender its chemical weapons, according to US senators.
"What he (Obama) wants is to check out the seriousness of the
Syrian and the Russian willingness to get rid of those
chemical weapons in Syria. He wants time to check it out,"
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin told
The White House said Obama, who has called the Russian
proposal a potential breakthrough, would still push for a
vote in Congress to authorize force when he makes a televised
address to Americans later on Tuesday.
But the US congressional vote now appeared more about
providing a hypothetical threat to back up diplomacy, rather
than to unleash immediate missile strikes. A bipartisan group
of senior members of Congress was working on a resolution
that would take into account the Russian proposal.
While the prospects of a deal remain uncertain, the proposal
could provide a way for Obama to avoid ordering unpopular
action. It may make it easier for him to win backing from a
sceptical Congress, which could have severely damaged his
authority if it withheld support for strikes. Opinion polls
show most Americans are opposed to military intervention in
Syria, weary after more than a decade of war in Iraq and
Whether international inspectors can neutralize chemical
weapons dumps while war rages in Syria remains open to
Western states believe Syria has a vast undeclared chemical
arsenal. Sending inspectors to destroy it would be hard even
in peace and extraordinarily complicated in the midst of a
The two main precedents are ominous: UN inspectors dismantled
the chemical arsenal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the
1990s but left enough doubt to provide the basis for a US-led
invasion in 2003. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was
rehabilitated by the West after agreeing to give up his
banned weapons, only to be overthrown with NATO help in 2011.