Syria wants to join chemical weapons ban treaty: Foreign minister

Syria wants to join chemical weapons ban treaty: Foreign minister

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Syria wants to join chemical weapons ban treaty: Foreign minister

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem meets on September 9, 2013 with his Russian counterpart in Moscow. AFP Photo

Syria wants to join the chemical weapons ban treaty and is ready to give other countries and the United Nations access to its arsenal, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said Sept. 10.

"We are ready to state where the chemical weapons are, to halt production of chemical weapons and show these installations to representatives of Russia, other countries and the U.N.," al-Muallem said in a statement sent to Russia's Interfax news agency.

"We want to join the chemical weapons ban treaty. We will respect our commitments in relation to the treaty, including providing information on these weapons." The statement followed Russia's surprise proposal Sept. 9 to secure Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

"Our backing of the Russian initiative shows our willingness to give up possession of all chemical weapons," added al-Muallem at the the end of a two-day visit to Moscow.

Moscow has called on Washington to rule out military action against Syria to allow its plan to go ahead, saying it would be difficult to constrain Syria to disarm while under threat of such action.

Kerry urges Syria to seize the chance for peace
Speaking just after al-Muallem's statement, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Sept. 10 urged the Syrian regime to "genuinely reach out" and seize the opportunity "to try to make peace" in their country.

Directly addressing al-Muallem and President Bashar al-Assad, Kerry said he hoped the two men "would take advantage of this opportunity as a moment to try to make peace in Syria." "Help us in the next days, working with Russia, to work out the formula by which those weapons can be transferred to international control and destroyed," Kerry pleaded during an online discussion hosted by Google.

But Kerry also insisted that any move to neutralize Syria's chemical weapons must have teeth, and lay out "consequences" if it turns out to be a delaying tactic to avoid U.S. military action.

Al-Assad's regime is accused of using chemical weapons in an August attack near Damascus, which Washington says killed 1,400 people. Videos of adults and children writhing in agony have galvanized global outrage, marking a new phase in the dragging civil war which has killed some 100,000 people, according to the United Nations.

"If we can in fact secure all of the chemical weapons in the Syria, through this method, clearly that's by far the most preferable, and would be a very significant achievement," Kerry said.

He stressed the proposals must be an "ongoing verifiable process" with full international access to all of the sites in question. "This cannot be a game. And that we have made very, very clear to the Russians," he said.

Since the idea was first floated on Sept. 9, it has garnered growing global support and the United States, France and Britain are now working on a resolution to go before the United Nations.

"We need a full resolution from the Security Council in order to have the confidence that this has the force that it ought to have," Kerry said.

"Common sense tells us that we don't want to buy into something that isn't going to get the job done. So this has to be transparent, accountable, fully implementable and a clearly verifiable process and we're going to have to work at how that's going to be achieved," he said.

"But it's also going to have consequences if games are played or somebody tries to undermine this." At an earlier Congress hearing, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said while everyone was hopeful the move could be "a real solution to the crisis" the threat of "credible, real" U.S. military action had to remain on the table.

Kerry told lawmakers Syria had about "1,000 metric tonnes of numerous chemical agents including sulfur, mustard gas and binary components for sarin gas and VX." U.S. experts were already working on how to implement the "exceedingly difficult" task of securing and destroying the weapons, he told the House Armed Services Committee.

Hagel added: "We must be very clear-eyed and ensure that it is not a stalling tactic by Syria and its Russian patrons.

"The threat of a U.S. military action, the credible, real threat of U.S. military action, must continue."