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Syria Peace Talks Could Hinge on Chemical Arms Removal

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi  and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) address the media in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday. Kerry and Lavrov said the prospects for resuming the Syria peace process depend on the outcome of their chemical-weapons talks (AP Photo/Larry Downing). U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) address the media in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday. Kerry and Lavrov said the prospects for resuming the Syria peace process depend on the outcome of their chemical-weapons talks (AP Photo/Larry Downing).

The fate of hoped-for negotiations to end Syria's civil war would hinge largely on the outcome of this week's U.S.-Russian meeting to secure and eliminate chemical-warfare stocks held by Damascus, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Friday.

Kerry issued the remarks partway through the second day of talks on fleshing out a Russian plan to subject the Syrian chemical arsenal to outside monitoring and eventual destruction. The proposal emerged publicly this week as President Obama and his administration laid the rhetorical groundwork for launching military strikes on Syrian government targets over an alleged Aug. 21 nerve gas strike by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

Speaking alongside Kerry in Geneva, Switzerland, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asserted Assad's government had signed onto an international chemical weapons ban. "We have to engage our professionals together with the [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] ... [to] make sure that this issue is resolved quickly, professionally, as soon as practical," Lavrov said.

Assad's envoy to the United Nations said a submission of documents on Thursday had established Damascus as a "full member" of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Reuters reported.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, though, on Thursday indicated that the treaty had still not formally taken effect in Syria.

The U.N. chief "welcomes" a written confirmation that Assad had inked a "legislative decree" on joining the pact, his office said in a statement. "Syrian authorities have expressed their commitment to observe the obligations entailed by the convention even before its entry into force," the released remarks state.

Assad's regime as recently as last week reshuffled the placement of its chemical arms across dozens of facilities, U.S. and Middle Eastern government insiders told the Wall Street Journal for a Friday report. Israel and the United States are now less sure than a half a year ago about where the bulk of the agents are located, according to U.S. sources.

Former White House WMD czar Gary Samore said "Assad might make ... a partial declaration of the chemical weapons he is willing to put under international control and keep a significant portion in his back pocket," the New York Times reported on Thursday.

Meanwhile, a Thursday news report says the United States might have included deaths from conventional arms in its count of people killed in the Aug. 21 strikes, legislative insiders told Reuters. Several experts noted that conventional "thermobaric weapons" can mimic certain chemical-weapons effects, Foreign Policy reported on Thursday.

NTI Analysis

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