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September 10, 2013

Russia pushes plan to secure Syria chemical arms, US wary

Pakistan

WD
Web Desk
September 10, 2013

MOSCOW: Russia seized the diplomatic initiative on Monday with a plan to head off the threat of US military strikes on Syria by putting its chemical weapons under international control.
Washington gave a cautious response, warning that, while it would like to see Bashar al-Assad give up his deadly nerve gas arsenal, his regime cannot be trusted.
The White House said it would take a “hard look” at the plan and oppose any move by Moscow, the Syrian leader’s most powerful ally, to let its friend off the hook.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Syrian counterpart and urged Damascus to “place chemical weapons under international control and then have them destroyed.”
Tony Blinken, deputy US national security advisor, said Washington would consult Russia over the plan but expressed doubt about the trustworthiness of the Syrian leadership.
“We would welcome a decision and action by Syria to give up its chemical weapons,” he said, but added that Syria’s “track record to date, doesn’t give you a lot of confidence.”
Speaking in Moscow, Syria’s Foreign Minster Walid al-Muallem welcomed the Russian move, although it was not immediately clear if a still defiant Assad would give his assent.
“I carefully listened to Sergei Lavrov’s statement about it,” Muallem said, according to the Russian state news agency ITAR-TASS.
“In connection with this, I note that Syria welcomes the Russian initiative based on the Syrian leadership’s concern about the lives of our nationals and the security of our country.”
The rebels battling Assad, who saw hope in the United States’ threat to bomb the regime, denounced the idea as a plot by Damascus’ Russian ally President Vladimir Putin.
“We call for strikes and we warn the international community that this regime tells lies, and the liar Putin is its teacher. Putin is the biggest liar,” Free Syrian Army chief Selim Idriss told Al-Jazeera television.
Britain’s

Prime Minister David Cameron also expressed concern that the plan might be “a distraction tactic” but broadly welcomed the Russian initiative.
And UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, called for the creation of UN supervised zones in Syria where the country’s chemical weapons can be destroyed.
Ban told reporters he may propose the zones to the Security Council if UN inspectors confirm banned weapons were used and to overcome the council’s “embarrassing paralysis” over Syria.
“I am considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed,” he said.
Before the Russian gambit, US Secretary of State John Kerry had argued that a political solution to the conflict would only be possible after US military strikes.“There is no military solution. And we have no illusions about that,” he said.
“And if one party believes that it can rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with impunity using chemicals ... he will never come to a negotiating table,” he said.For his part, Assad warned Monday the United States will “pay the price” if it attacks Syria, invading US President Barack Obama’s home turf with an appearance on US television.
The move pre-empted Obama’s plan to give no less than six interviews to defend his strike plan to the US public and lawmakers, before giving a major national address Tuesday.In the meantime, US cruise missile destroyers are idling in the Eastern Mediterranean, preparing for what US officials described as an extremely limited, precise punitive strike.
Assad’s comments did not rise to the level of a precise threat, but will do nothing to calm fears that Syria and it allies Hezbollah and Iran could act to destabilize its neighbors.
A White House spokesman responded that the United States is ready for any move by Assad.“What we’ll send is a clear message to him. He has no interest in escalating this conflict, frankly,” said Ben Rhodes, spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council.
The US Congress returned to work after its summer recess to face a barrage of classified briefings that the White House hopes will convince lawmakers to back a strike.
Meanwhile, the United States needs to strike Syria in part to send a message to its ally Iran over its nuclear program, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser said on Monday.
Susan Rice, joining a major public effort by Obama to persuade a skeptical Congress, said the United States was morally bound to respond to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
Rice said that US action on Syria was also critical for the broader influence of the United States, which has joined Israel and European nations in warning Iran against developing nuclear weapons.
“We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon,” Rice said at the New America Foundation, a think tank.“As the president has said, all options remain on the table. For our efforts to succeed, however, the leaders in Tehran must know that the United States means what we say,” she said.
“If we do not respond when Iran’s close ally uses weapons of mass destruction, what message does that send to Iran? It risks suggesting that the international community cannot muster the will to act when necessary,” Rice said.