Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

PM backs Syria arms handover idea

US secretary of state John Kerry will hold talks in London with Foreign Secretary William Hague over Syria (AP)
US secretary of state John Kerry will hold talks in London with Foreign Secretary William Hague over Syria (AP)

A Russian plan for Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control is "hugely welcome", David Cameron has said, but he warned that it must not become a "distraction" from resolving the crisis over poison gas attacks on civilians in the country.

The proposal was made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov just hours after US Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Syrian President Bashar Assad might forestall international military action on his country by giving up his chemical arsenal.

Even though Mr Kerry made clear that he had no expectation of Assad taking this step, Moscow seized on the idea as a potential solution to the current impasse over the international community's response to the use of nerve gas sarin against civilians in a suburb of Damascus on August 21.

Following talks in Moscow with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem, Mr Lavrov said: "If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus.

"We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons."

Mr al-Moallem said that Syria "welcomes Russia's initiative, based on the Syrian's government care about the lives of our people and security of our country".

Asked in the House of Commons whether he welcomed Moscow's proposals, Mr Cameron said: "I've only recently heard this announcement myself. If that were to be the case, it would be hugely welcome.

"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.

"I think we have to be careful though to make sure this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the table. But if it's a genuine offer, then it should be genuinely looked at."

Downing Street indicated that any future decision by the Assad regime to hand over weapons would not detract from the need for a robust reaction to the poison gas attacks which have already taken place.

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