Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s foreign minister on Monday welcomed Russia’s proposal that Damascus hand over control of its chemical weapons arsenal to international supervision to avoid US military action.
“I carefully listened to (Russian foreign minister) Sergei Lavrov’s statement about it. In connection with this, I note that Syria welcomes the Russian initiative based on the Syrian leadership’s concern about the lives of our nationals and the security of our country,” Walid al-Muallem said in televised comments.
“We also hail the wisdom of the Russian leadership which is trying to prevent an American aggression against our people,” he added without elaborating.
Earlier Monday Lavrov called on the Syrian regime to hand over control of its chemical weapons arsenal to international supervision as a way of staving off the threat of military action.
The proposal came after talks between Lavrov and Muallem in Moscow, with the top Russian diplomat calling on Syria to “place the chemical weapons under international control and then have them destroyed”.
Lavrov said such a plan would help “avoid military strikes” that are being considered by the United States and its allies.
Lavrov said he had already made the proposal to Muallem and hoped for a “quick and positive answer” from Syria.
“We do not know if Syria agrees to this, but if placing the chemical weapons under international control helps avoid military strikes, then we will immediately get to work on this,” Lavrov said.
“We have already handed over this proposal to minister Muallem, who is in Moscow, and hope for a quick and positive answer,” Lavrov said in a prepared statement he read out to reporters at a hastily called news briefing in Moscow.
As well as handing over the weapons and having them destroyed, Syria should also become a full member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Lavrov said.
His comments came after US Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier Monday that President Bashar al-Assad could turn over his chemical weapons to the international community to have a chance of avoiding military action.
“Turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting for that,” Kerry told reporters in London.
“But he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done.”
Moscow has also made clear it is unconvinced that the Syrian regime was behind the chemical weapons attack on August 21 that the United States and its allies say was carried out by the government.
The visit by Muallem came as US lawmakers were to return Monday from a summer break and debate limited US military action in Syria.
Russia and the United States agreed in May to organise a peace conference in Geneva bringing all sides to the table, but the idea is fast receding as momentum grows for strikes over the alleged chemical attack outside Damascus.