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Chemical weapon handover?

September 9, 2013

The UN, Germany and the UK have welcomed a Russian proposal that Syria hand over all its chemical weapons for either safekeeping or destruction. Russia said this could help "avoid military strikes".

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R, front) shows the way to his Syrian counterpart Walid Moualem (L) during a meeting in Moscow. Photo: Reuters.
Image: Reuters

The United States Congress is still debating military intervention in Syria in response to August 21's alleged chemical weapons attack, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying earlier on Monday he had “real evidence” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime was responsible

The handover scheme suggested by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, however, has highlighted another alternative path of action.

United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon told reporters on Monday he may propose supervised the establishment of special zones where Syria's chemical weapons could be collected and destroyed.

He said he would do so if UN inspectors could confirm the use of banned weapons, declaring the move could help overcome the “embarrassing paralysis” over the Syria conflict by the 15-nation UN council.

Syrian FM shocks with proposal

"I am considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria's chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed," Ban said.

He said Syria President Bashar al-Assad's regime would "first and foremost … agree positively to this."

Russian proposal

His comments came after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used talks with Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem to propose a handover scheme. Lavrov said the move would help “avoid military strikes”, and the proposal won some support from Moallem.

"I carefully listened to 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," he said. "We also hail the wisdom of the Russian leadership which is trying to prevent an American aggression against our people.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron also spoke positively of the proposal.

"Today there were very interesting proposals about the chemical weapons," Merkel said told a forum broadcast nationwide.

"If this is intended to lead to action and not to just play for time, then Germany will push hard for this path to be further pursued."

Cameron has remained supportive of US President Barack Obama and his plan to embark on military intervention in Syria despite failing to get his own motion through government. He did, however, share the same concern on whether the plan was a bid to buy time.

“If that were to be the case it would be hugely welcome," Cameron told lawmakers. "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."

However, Cameron added: "I think we have to be careful though this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the table.”

Teleschalte mit Max Hofmann in Washington

At-odds leaders front press

Obama has long said the US would not need a UN mandate to attack Syria, and has remained steadfast in asserting that Assad's forces were responsible for the attacks which Washington claims killed 1,429 people.

The US president will appear in interviews on six television stations on Monday, while Assad used an interview filmed the same day with CBS to warn of the ramifications of any attack.

Assad said the world had “to expect everything” in the wake of US military intervention, and again rejected any government involvement in chemical attacks.

ph/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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