Suddenly, though, events took another unexpected turn this week. First Russia and then Syria reacted positively to a seemingly off-hand remark from Secretary of State John Kerry indicating that the crisis could be defused if Damascus agreed to put its chemical weapons under international control.
The president said he was sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday, and he added, “I will continue my own discussion” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A Russian plan for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to avert Western missile strikes bogged down earlier Tuesday when Moscow rejected U.S. and French demands for a binding U.N. resolution with “very severe consequences” for non-compliance.
The surprise Russian proposal, which Syria and the United States both accepted, would put President Bashar Assad’s regime’s chemical stockpile under international control before its eventual dismantling. The initiative — also cautiously endorsed by Britain and France — appeared to offer a way out of a crisis that raised the prospect of U.S.-led military action against Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack last month.
But the plan ran aground as the world powers haggled over the crucial element of how to enforce it. Wary of falling into what the French foreign minister called “a trap,” Paris and Washington are pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution to verify Syria’s disarmament. Russia, a close Assad ally and the regime’s chief patron on the international stage, dismissed France’s proposal as unacceptable.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said early Tuesday during a trip to Moscow that Damascus “agreed to the Russian initiative as it should thwart the U.S. aggression against our country.”
Before departing Moscow in the evening, al-Moallem told Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV that Syria would place its chemical weapons locations in the hands of representatives of Russia, other unspecified countries and the United Nations. Syria will also declare the chemical arsenal it long denied having, stop producing such weapons and sign conventions against them.