The nascent diplomatic breakthrough to avert U.S. military action in Syria appears to have been launched by an off-the-cuff remark that soon snowballed into an agreement by Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stocks.
Here’s more about how the initiative came about:
Monday morning (All times Eastern)
• U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was asked by a reporter in London whether there was anything the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could do to avoid a U.S. military strike.
“Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting [of it], but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done,” Mr. Kerry said.
After the remark, the state department scrambled to provide context, saying Mr. Kerry “was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used,” a state department spokeswoman said in an e-mailed statement. “His [Kerry’s] point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.”
• However, in a surprise move, Russia – Syria’s most powerful ally – seized on Mr. Kerry’s suggestion, saying it would push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control and dismantle them to avert U.S. strikes.
“If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “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.”
• U.S. President Barack Obama said the Russian proposal could be “potentially a significant breakthrough,” but he remained skeptical that Syria would follow through.
“The key is, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, that we don’t just trust, but we also verify,” Mr. Obama told CBS. “The importance is to make sure that the international community has confidence that these chemical weapons are under control, that they are not being used, that potentially they are removed from Syria and that they are destroyed.”
• Syria said it has accepted Russia’s proposal to place its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent dismantling.
After meeting with the speaker of the Russian parliament on Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his government quickly “agreed to the Russian initiative.” He added that Syria did so to “uproot U.S. aggression.”
As well, Prime Minister Wael al-Halki was quoted on state television saying his government backed the initiative in order “to spare Syrian blood”.
• Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that Russia is working with Syria to prepare a detailed plan of action, which will be presented shortly. Mr. Lavrov said Russia will then be ready to finalize the plan together with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
With reports from Reuters and The Associated Press