Report: Syria accepts chemical weapons proposal

Posted at 10:16 AM, Sep 10, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-10 10:16:06-04

(CNN) – The Syrian government supports a proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control as a way to avert a Western military strike, Syria’s prime minister said Tuesday.

The Russian plan “aims to stop the Syrian bloodshed and prevent a war,” Wael Nader Al-Halqi said, according to Syrian state television.

Earlier, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem as saying the country had accepted the proposal after “a very fruitful round of talks” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday.

While skeptical, U.S. officials said they would work with Russia on the idea. France’s foreign minister promised to bring the idea before the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday. And China also said it welcomes and supports the proposal, the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said.

Like Russia, China is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and has used its veto power to block some resolutions against Syria.

Details of such a transfer have yet to be worked out, such as where the arms would go, who would safeguard them and how the world could be sure Syria had handed over its entire stockpile of chemical weapons. The United States, Britain and other nations suspect the Syrian government of using chemical weapons repeatedly in the two-year-old civil war, including an August 21 incident that U.S. officials say killed more than 1,400 people.

President Barack Obama is expected to address the nation tonight during prime time to make the case for military action.

The proposal — to put the country’s chemical weapons sites under international control — stemmed from off-the-cuff remarks made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Asked Monday whether there was anything Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government could do to avoid an attack, Kerry said al-Assad “could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.

“He isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously,” Kerry said.

Russia, Syria’s leading ally, quickly urged al-Assad to do just that.

“It’s certainly a positive development when the Russians and Syrians both make gestures towards dealing with these chemical weapons,” President Barack Obama told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday.

But Obama said the threat of American force would remain, “And we don’t want just a stalling or delaying tactic to put off the pressure that we have on there right now.”

Sen. John McCain, a leading Republican voice in calls for military action against Syria, said Tuesday there could be “a very good initial test” of such a solution.

“That would be for the immediate dispatch of international monitors to these chemical weapons sites” in Syria, he told CNN’s “New Day.”

“I’m very, very skeptical,” he said. “But the fact is, you can’t pass up this opportunity — if it is one.”

McCain said he is trying to work with Obama and Kerry and others.

But, he added, “There’s a degree of incoherence that I have never seen the likes of so far.”

He noted that Kerry has said any attack on Syria would be “unbelievably small.”

“What does that mean?” McCain asked. “We still haven’t determined what the goal of these military strikes are.”

By Josh Levs