Tuesday 12 December 2017

Kerry set for Syria weapons talks in Geneva

US secretary of state John Kerry has arrived in Geneva to test the seriousness of a Russian proposal to secure Syria's chemical weapons.

Mr Kerry and a team of US experts will have at least two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts, led by foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.


They hope to emerge with an outline of how 1,000 tons of chemical weapons stocks and precursor materials as well as potential delivery systems can be safely inventoried and isolated under international control in an active war zone and then destroyed.


Officials with Mr Kerry said they would be looking for a rapid agreement on principles for the process with the Russians, including a demand for a speedy Syrian accounting of their stockpiles.


It comes after the five veto-wielding members of the United Nations Security Council, which have been deeply divided over Syria, met to discuss what to include in a new resolution on Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.


The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is expected to be in Geneva to be available to meet Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov, whose efforts to end the two and a half-year Syrian conflict have been halted by a government offensive and a deadly suspected poison gas attack on August 21.


The diplomatic flurry follows the threat of US strikes against president Bashar Assad's regime and a surprise offer from Mr Kerry that Assad could avert US military action by turning over "every single bit of his chemical weapons" to international control within a week.


Russia, Syria's most important ally, and Assad's government quickly agreed on the broad proposal, but details still need to be worked out.


In an opinion piece for the New York Times, Russian president Vladimir Putin called for caution in dealing with Syria, saying a potential strike by the US would create more victims and could spread the conflict beyond the country and unleash a wave of terrorism.


A senior UN diplomat said today's meeting between Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov will be an exploratory session to gauge whether they can embark on "the Herculean task" of dismantling Syria's chemical weapons while the country is at war.


While serious differences have already emerged - especially on whether a UN resolution should be militarily enforceable as the US and its Western allies are demanding - the diplomatic moves represent the first major effort in more than a year to try to get supporters of the Syrian government and opposition on the same page.


Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the conflict, which has left the UN's most powerful body paralysed as the war escalates and the death toll surpasses 100,000. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon earlier this week called the council's paralysis embarrassing.


The White House said it was not putting a timeline on a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Syria, though press secretary Jay Carney said putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control "obviously will take some time".


France has proposed a draft resolution that demands Syria's chemical weapons be put under international control and dismantled. It also condemns the August 21 chemical attack the Obama administration says killed 1,400 people and calls for the perpetrators to be sent to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.


Submitted under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which makes it enforceable militarily, it warns of "very serious consequences" if Syria does not comply.


Mr Lavrov immediately rejected any resolution under Chapter 7 and proposed a weaker presidential statement instead, a move rejected by the US, Britain and France.

Press Association

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