The State Department said Monday it would take a “hard look” at a Russian proposal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to international control to avoid a military strike, but voiced skepticism that Syria would carry out such a plan.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington would consider the proposal floated by the foreign ministers of Russia and Syria with “serious skepticism,” because it might be a stalling tactic. She said Syria had consistently refused to destroy its chemical weapons in the past.
Despite the skepticism exhibited by Washington, some members of the government remained determined to follow through with plans to take action against the Assad regime. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken appeared at a White House briefing and argued that “if we don’t act, the international norm against the use of chemical weapons will be weakened.”
Hilary Clinton, emerging from a meeting with US President Barack Obama in the White House, called the Russian proposal and the favorable Syrian reaction an “important step.” However, the former secretary of state warned, Russia would be “held to account” if it proved insincere in its pledge to help the international community. She said that the world must deal with Syria’s chemical weapons threat “as swiftly and comprehensively as possible.”
The statements came in response to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who said his country welcomed a proposal pitched by Moscow earlier in the evening to submit Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles to international control.
The surprise announcement came following a meeting in Moscow between Moallem and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and just hours after US Secretary of State John Kerry said such a move — which Kerry made plain he considered highly improbable — could avert a limited US strike on the country in retaliation for a lethal August 21 chemical weapons attack.
“Syria welcomes the Russian proposal out of concern for the lives of the Syrian people, the security of our country and because it believes in the wisdom of the Russian leadership that seeks to avert American aggression against our people,” Moallem said.
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the proposal was worthy of “close scrutiny,” but that any deal would have to include three basic components: that Assad quickly place his arsenal of chemical weapons under international control and allow the weapons to be destroyed; that the UN Security Council endorse the deal; and that the agreement would not be seen as absolving Assad for the August chemical weapons attack, which the US says killed over 1,400.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, another key US ally, reacted favorably to Syria’s declaration, saying the notion of putting the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons under international supervision was “a big step forward.” He warned, however, that “we have to be careful, though, to make sure this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the table.”