Syria war scenario slows after Moscow's offer

Ahram Online, AFP, AP and Reuters , Monday 9 Sep 2013

Russian initiative on the monitoring of Syria's chemical weapons may forestall a possible military strike

Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, left, accompanied by White House press secretary Jay Carney, speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept., 9, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Arguing it would prevent a potential US strike against Syria, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov proposed on Monday the placement of Syrian chemical weapons under international control.

Russia would urge Syria to concentrate its chemical weapons in certain areas as to be internationally monitored and then dismantled, Lavrov told reporters.

Syrian foreign minister Walid Al-Muallem welcomed the Russian proposal in a televised statement as a way to avoid a US-led military operation.

"I carefully listened to Sergei Lavrov's statement about it. In connection with this, I note that Syria welcomes the Russian initiative based on the Syrian leadership's concern about the lives of our nationals and the security of our country," Al-Muallem said.

"We also hail the wisdom of the Russian leadership which is trying to prevent an American aggression against our people," he added without elaborating.

Both top-level foreign officials had met for talks on Monday over the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. After the meeting, Lavrov stated that UN chemical weapons experts should conclude their investigation and preset their results to the UN Security Council.

"We have agreed to push for the earliest return of inspectors," Lavrov said.

Al-Muallem said his government was ready to host the UN team, and insisted that Syria is ready to use all channels to convince the Americans that it wasn't behind the attack.

He added that Syria was ready for "full cooperation with Russia to remove any pretext for aggression."

These moves came just ahead of the internationally-awaited procedural vote by the US Senate on Wednesday on whether to authorise a military operation against Syria.

The Senate will vote on a motion to debate the resolution endorsing limited military action in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, AFP quoted Senate majority leader Harry Reid as saying.

Tony Blinken, a deputy national security adviser, said that Washington would consult with Russia over the proposal to monitor Syria's chemical weapons, revealing doubt about the intentions of Bashar Al-Assad's regime.

"We would welcome a decision and action by Syria to give up its chemical weapons," Blinken said.

"We will take a hard look at the proposal," he said.

But he added that Syria's "track record to date, doesn't give you a lot of confidence."

Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, warned that any plan to get Syria to dispose of its chemical arms should not be "another stalling tactic."

"The Russians for months and years have stood up for the Syrian regime at the UN and in the international community," she said.

Syrian rebels unsatisfied

"We call for strikes and we warn the international community that this regime tells lies, and the liar [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is its teacher. Putin is the biggest liar," Free Syrian Army chief Selim Idriss told Al-Jazeera.

The rebel chief claimed that the Syrian regime wants "to buy time to save itself" from a US attack.

"I say to decision-makers that we know this regime, we have experienced it, and we warn you against falling into its trap of deceit and dishonesty," Idriss said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the creation of UN-controlled zones in Syria in order to destroy the existing chemical weapons if UN inspectors proved the use of the banned weapons.

British Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the Russian suggestion but had some reservations.

"If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use, under international supervision, clearly that would be a big step forward and should be encouraged." Cameron said.

He added: "I think we have to be careful though that this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the table.

"But if it is a genuine offer it should be genuinely looked at."   

The British government announced its non-involvement in the possible military strike against Syria following a vote in the House of Commons.

A motion designed to help pave the way for a possible intervention, presented by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat ruling coalition, was defeated 285-272 after fierce resistance from the opposition Labour Party headed by Ed Miliband.

"I can give that assurance. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons,” Conservative premier Cameron said.

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