Syria has accepted Russia’s proposal to surrender its chemical weapons. It is unclear, however, if they will agree to the terms of the handover resolution that France will submit to the UN Security Council.
In accord with the new plan for Syria to hand over chemical weapons, France announced that inspectors would have to verify the process. Syria has yet to respond to France’s demands, but announced through Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem it had "agreed to the Russian initiative" in order to "uproot [US] aggression."
Moallem's brief statement on Tuesday came as warplanes belonging to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad bombed rebel positions in the Syrian capital of Damascus for the first time since the United States threatened military intervention.
During a press conference in Paris on Tuesday morning, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that France had begun taking steps toward bringing a resolution to the UN Security Council, which would require Syria to "bring fully to light" its chemical weapons program. France supported Russia's proposal to require Syria to hand over all chemical weapons, Fabius said, but he emphasized that the UN Security Council should use the move as an opportunity to curb future violations of international law by Assad's regime.
The resolution, as described by Fabius, would require the Security Council to condemn the August 21 chemical weapons attack, referring to the event which prompted US President Barack Obama to seek immediate action against the Assad regime. Officials claim they have concrete evidence implicating the Syrian president's military in the attack, which the US says killed over 1,400 civilians. Assad has denied the allegations.
Syria would also be required to make transparent its chemical weapons program, allow international inspectors to survey the stockpile and oversee its destruction, Fabius said.
He said France did not "want to fall into a trap" that could allow Assad's regime to skirt accountability.
On Monday, Russia proposed that Assad dismantle his chemical weapons program as the best solution to avoiding a military strike, which has loomed as the US Congress prepares to deliberate over approving Obama's plans.
Russia's offer came as a surprise, as Moscow has remained firmly opposed to intervening in Syria's civil war. US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly sparked the idea when he told reporters at a London press conference that al-Assad could resolve the crisis by surrendering his chemical weapons arsenal. The State Department later said his comment was "rhetorical."
The handover plan was welcomed by leaders of countries such as Germany, pushing for a political solution to the conflict, and the United Kingdom, where parliamentarians shot down Prime Minister David Cameron's appeal to authorize military intervention.
Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Cameron did, however, warn that the initiative should not be used as a bid to buy time.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that Germany welcomed the initiative and would be ready to offer its "considerable experience" and expertise dismantling chemical weapons.
Russia has already begun working on a detailed plan of action with Syrian counterparts, which were due for release shortly, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday.
Like Russia, China has also been strongly opposed to military intervention in Syria and has thrown its support behind a handover.
Strike still 'on the table'
Fabius indicated that France would submit the resolution under Chapter 7 of UN charter so that the international community could legally resort to an armed response to show Assad there would be "serious consequences" if he did not comply. The French resolution would also include bringing the perpetrators of the August 21 attack before an international court.
He said, though, that the draft resolution would not change France's attitude toward a military intervention.
"Military action remains on the table," Fabius said.
The move from France came as Washington appeared to have put a "pause" on deliberations over a strike on Assad.
Speaking during an interview with reporter Diane Sawyer on the US television network ABC, Obama welcomed Russia's proposal as a "potentially significant breakthrough."
"My objective here has always been to deal with a very specific problem," Obama said. "If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference."
kms, ph/mkg (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)