Moscow, Damascus Draft Chemical-Arms Transfer Plan

Russia is working with the Syrian government to prepare an "effective, clear, concrete" proposal for Damascus to relinquish its chemical arsenal, Reuters quoted Moscow's top envoy as saying on Tuesday.

"We hope to present this plan in the very near future, and will be prepared to finalize it and work it out with the involvement of the U.N. secretary-general, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and members of the [U.N] Security Council," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry later on Tuesday said the United States is "waiting" for the joint plan, Reuters reported separately. "But we're not waiting for long."

"President Obama will take a hard look at it. But it has to be swift, it has to be real, it has to be verifiable. It cannot be a delaying tactic," Kerry said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee.

The statements followed a Tuesday announcement by Assad's top envoy that Damascus would turn over the weapons to an outside authority in an effort to prevent a possible U.S. attack.

"We accepted Russia's initiative" on Monday evening to "derail the U.S. aggression," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in remarks reported by USA Today.

The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday was expected to receive a separate Syrian chemical-arms proposal prepared by France, the United Kingdom and the United States, Reuters quoted British Prime Minister David Cameron as saying. The French-backed text would call for full disclosure of Syria's chemical warfare holdings and establish multilateral oversight of the disarmament effort, the BBC on Tuesday quoted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as saying.

Fabius later said the draft measure would allow for "extremely serious" repercussions if Damascus violated its terms.

The French foreign minister suggested that the measure would serve to clarify the positions of Moscow and Beijing, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. The two governments so far have prevented the 15-nation body from approving punitive measures against Damascus for its tactics in the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.

It still was uncertain if Russia would agree to the French text, according to the Post. Moscow has questioned Western assertions that Assad's regime employed nerve gas last month in an attack that U.S. officials contend was responsible for more than 1,400 deaths.

Obama, who is set to give a televised speech on Syria on Tuesday evening, on Monday said his administration "will pursue this diplomatic track."

"I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a nonmilitary way," he told Fox News in an interview -- one among a half-dozen television appearances the president made on Monday aimed at generating public and congressional support for his Syria approach.

"I have instructed John Kerry to talk directly to the Russians and run this to ground," Obama told the "PBS NewsHour."

"And if we can exhaust these diplomatic efforts and come up with a formula that gives the international community a verifiable, enforceable mechanism to deal with these chemical weapons in Syria, then I’m all for it," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday delayed a vote previously planned for Wednesday on authorizing the use of military force against Assad's regime. A group of eight Democratic and Republican senators were separately preparing a measure that would enable a potential U.N. chemical disarmament action to move forward in Syria, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Several Arab nations on Tuesday reaffirmed a call for the Security Council to take "deterrent" action in response to the alleged gas attack, Reuters reported. After announcing its willingness to pursue a chemical-arms agreement, Assad's government on Tuesday conducted its first aerial raid against opposition forces in Damascus since Western powers threatened to intervene in the conflict, the news agency said.

September 10, 2013

Russia is working with the Syrian government to prepare an "effective, clear, concrete" proposal for Damascus to relinquish its chemical arsenal, Reuters quoted Moscow's top envoy as saying on Tuesday.