Saturday 24 February 2018

Kerry to review Russian plan for disarming Syria

US Secretary of State John Kerry
US Secretary of State John Kerry

David Blair Washington

RUSSIA and America will hold crucial talks today on a plan to disarm Syria of chemical weapons after US President Barack Obama formally put military strikes on hold in favour of diplomacy.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, will meet John Kerry, the US secretary of state, in Geneva to discuss the Kremlin's proposal, under which Bashar al-Assad would surrender his stockpiles of poison gas to international control.

Moscow presented the details of its plan to Washington last night but the rival powers are deeply divided over whether to threaten the Assad regime with the use of force.

France, which has been working closely with America, yesterday circulated a draft United Nations resolution that would give Syria just 15 days to declare all of its chemical weapons or risk attack.

The two allies want a clear timetable for Syria to surrender its arsenal, backed by the threat of military strikes. A specific timeline is also a central British demand, according to the British Foreign Office.

MILITARY

But Russia has ruled out any suggestion of threatening military action. It was unclear last night whether its plan came with deadlines.

The rival proposals followed Mr Obama's address to the nation on Tuesday night, in which he said that Congress would delay any decision on military action "while we pursue this diplomatic path".

Mr Obama said it was "too early" to tell if the negotiations would succeed and the US military stood ready to act if diplomacy failed.

The UN Security Council's five permanent members were due to meet in New York last night. But a vote on France's draft resolution has been postponed until Russia and America have completed their Geneva talks and a team of weapons inspectors, who visited the scene of the gas attacks last month, deliver their report to the Security Council. No decision is likely until next week.

A senior Russian MP yesterday warned that Moscow could expand arms sales to Iran and revise the terms allowing US military transit to Afghanistan if Washington launches a strike on Syria.

Last night, Interfax, a Russian news agency, said the Kremlin had "passed the United States a plan for fulfilling the initiative on international control of Syrian chemical weapons".

It said that the plan would be "considered" at today's meeting between Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry, but the foreign ministry in Moscow declined to say anything about its contents.

The draft resolution proposed by France, meanwhile, laid out the demands of the Security Council's Western members. It set a deadline of 15 days for Assad's regime to submit a "complete and definitive" declaration of its chemical arsenal.

The draft demanded the unconditional destruction of these weapons "under international supervision". If Syria failed to comply, the penalty would be "further necessary measures under Chapter VII" of the UN Charter, which provides for the use of armed force.

In addition, the proposed resolution blamed the "Syrian authorities" for carrying out the poison gas attacks that claimed hundreds of lives in Damascus on August 21.

The draft would also refer Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC), opening the way for Assad and his allies to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes.

Russia, by contrast, blames the rebels for the chemical attacks and opposes referring Syria to the ICC. Whether any elements of the French draft would be acceptable to the Kremlin is unclear.

Assad's regime said again that it accepted the Russian plan yesterday – but denied this would entail placing its chemical weapons under international control, let alone destroying them.

"There was no talk about moving and transferring control," said Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister for national reconciliation.

"There was talk about putting these weapons under international supervision." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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