‘Netanyahu backed Russian chemical arms deal in call to Kerry’

Israel denies report PM told US secretary of state he believed Moscow was serious about removing Syrian chemical weapons

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US Secretary of State John Kerry last week that he should try to reach a deal with Russia to confiscate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal as an alternative to a threatened US strike on the Assad regime, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

According to the report, Kerry called Netanyahu on September 11 and the Israeli leader told him that he didn’t think that Russia was bluffing about its plan for Syria.

The report was based on information from US and Middle East officials who were informed of the details of the conversation.

Netanyahu also reportedly told Kerry he thought a deal was possible.

Netanyahu’s office denied the report later Monday, calling it “untrue” and “erroneous.”

On Saturday the US and Russia agreed to guidelines which would see Syria give up its chemical weapons stockpile by the middle of next year.

On Sunday, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials expressed cautious optimism over the deal, saying it would be tested by Syria’s actions.

Kerry later met with Netanyahu to discuss the Syrian chemical weapons deal, during a short stop in the country.

On Monday, Kerry continued his diplomatic push to gain international support for the deal, briefing some of the United States’ closest allies, many of whom are suspicious about the Moscow-brokered proposal.

A day after visiting Israel, Kerry was due to meet with top officials from France, Britain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who had pressed for military strikes on Syria after the August 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds.

US and Russian officials reached an ambitious agreement over the weekend calling for an inventory of Syria’s chemical weapons program within a week, with the program eradicated by mid-2014.

A UN resolution under discussion Monday would detail how Syria can secure and destroy its stockpile.

An official close to France’s President Francois Hollande said there was firm agreement among France, Britain and the United States that the resolution must be “strong, robust, precise” and must include a calendar of benchmarks for Assad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Hollande also agreed to continue to work toward a political solution with the Syrian opposition, the officials said.

A report by weapons inspectors on the alleged Damascus chemical attack was expected to be released later Monday.


Updated September 16 to include Israeli denial.

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