Belfast Telegraph

Monday 20 October 2014

Assad: We'll give up arms control

US Secretary of State John Kerry, right, greets the UN Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva (AP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrives for a meeting to discuss the issue of Syrian chemical weapons in Geneva (AP)
Syrian President Bashar Assad tells Russian TV he will put his chemical weapons under international control (AP)

President Bashar Assad says Syria will start submitting data on its chemical weapons stockpile a month after signing the convention banning such weapons. Assad says this is the "standard process" and his country will follow it.

In an interview with Russia's Rossiya-24 TV, Assad said that the process is "two-sided" and suggested it will only work if the US halts its threats of military action against Syria. He also said his government agreed to surrender its chemical weapons in response to Russia's initiative and not because of the US threat of attack. "Syria is transferring chemical weapons under international control because of Russia," he said.

He was speaking as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva to test the seriousness of a Russian proposal to secure Syria's chemical weapons.

Mr Kerry and a team of US experts will have at least two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts today and tomorrow. They hope to emerge with an outline of how some 1,000 tons of chemical weapons stocks and precursor materials as well as potential delivery systems can be safely inventoried and isolated under international control in an active war zone and then destroyed.

Officials with Mr Kerry said they would be looking for a rapid agreement on principles for the process with Russians, including a demand for a speedy Syrian accounting of their stockpiles. One official said the task is "doable but difficult and complicated."

The official said the US is looking for signs of Russian seriousness and thinks it will know in a relatively short time if the Russians are trying to stall.

Another official described the ideas that the Russians have presented so far as "an opening position" that needs a lot of work and input from technical experts. The US team includes officials who worked on inspection and removal of unconventional weapons from Libya after 2003 and in Iraq after the first Gulf War.

Mr Kerry was meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, before sitting down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Meanwhile it was confirmed the CIA has been delivering light machine guns and other small arms to Syrian rebels for several weeks, following President Barack Obama's decision to arm the rebels. The agency has also arranged for the Syrian opposition to receive anti-tank weaponry like rocket-propelled grenades through a third party, presumably one of the Gulf countries that has been arming the rebels, intelligence officials said.

The US is hoping that an acceptable agreement with the Russians can be part of a binding new UN Security Council resolution being negotiated that would hold Syria accountable for using chemical weapons. Russia, however, has long opposed UN action on Syria, vetoed three earlier resolutions, blocked numerous, less severe condemnations and has not indicated it is willing to go along with one now.

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