Syrian refugees wait before boarding a flight to Germany at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, yesterday. Over a hundred Syrian refugees mostly women and children were preparing to leave Lebanon on a flight to Germany, the first to be part of a mass relocation programme.
PARIS: Russia yesterday said it had given the US a plan to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, raising hopes of a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
The move came a day after threatened US-led strikes against President Bashar Al Assad’s regime were put on ice in response to Russia’s offer to oversee Syria giving up its arsenal after Washington accused Damascus of using deadly sarin gas against its own people last month.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva today for talks on the disarmament process that are expected to run until tomorrow at least.
“We handed over to the Americans a plan to place chemical weapons in Syria under international control. We expect to discuss it in Geneva,” Russian news agencies quoted a source in the Russian delegation to the talks as saying.
Russian officials provided no details of the plan which has effectively pushed military action off the table for the time being, although both the US and France stressed it remains an option if Syria is seen to be stalling.
With the risk of an attack having receded considerably for now, Assad — who turned 48 yesterday — was free to pursue his battle with a rebel coalition that has been left dismayed by the West’s retreat from intervention.
US President Barack Obama has expressed optimism that the Russian initiative can lead to the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons without the use of force.
The switch to diplomacy was welcomed yesterday by China, which also praised Syria’s offer to sign an international treaty banning chemical weapons.
“We hope all relevant sides can grasp this opportunity to solve the Syria problem through diplomatic and political means,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
France insisted military action remained an option.
“France will remain, in permanent contact with its partners, mobilised to punish the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and to deter them from using them again,” President Francois Hollande said after talks with his military chiefs.
Among Western leaders, Hollande has been the leading advocate of intervention in Syria, although, like Obama, he has been unable to convince a majority of his electorate of the case for action. Obama said US cruise missile destroyers would remain in place within striking distance of Syria, warning that “the US military doesn’t do pinpricks.”
Israel’s President Shimon Peres said he believed Obama would not back away from airstrikes if Syria is shown to be acting in bad faith.
“If there will be a crack in Syria’s integrity I have no doubt that the US will act militarily,” Peres said. Syria was threatened with strikes in response to the use of sarin gas in an August 21 attack on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.
The US says the attack killed more than 1,400 people and was carried out by Assad’s forces, a claim the regime denies.
Syria announced on Tuesday that it would join an international convention banning chemical weapons and hand over control of current stocks — effectively admitting for the first time that it has them.
The path to a peaceful resolution of the crisis remains littered with obstacles, however, with the US, France and Britain still at odds with the Russians over the next steps.
France and Britain are pushing for a UN Security Council resolution authorising military action in the event of Syria failing to act on its disarmament promises. AFP