Syria welcomes chemical arms arsenal handover proposal

Syria welcomes chemical arms arsenal handover proposal

MOSCOW - Reuters/ Agence France-Presse
Syria welcomes chemical arms arsenal handover proposal

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem gives a press conference with his Russian counterpart on September 9, 2013 follwing a meeting in Moscow. AFP PHOTO / YURI KADOBNOV

Syria welcomes a Russian proposal to place the nation's chemical weapons under international control, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said Sept.9 after talks in Moscow, praising the Kremlin for seeking to "prevent American aggression".

Muallem , who spoke to reporters through an interpreter after Russia expressed hope the proposal could avert military strikes against Syria, stopped short of saying explicitly that President Bashar al-Assad's government accepted it.

"I state that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership's concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and also motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression against our people," he said.

The visit by Muallem came as US lawmakers were to return Monday from a summer break and debate limited US military action in Syria.

Lavrov calls to hand over control of chemical weapons

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the Syrian regime earlier in the day called to hand over control of its chemical weapons arsenal to international supervision as a way of staving off the threat of military action.

After talks with Muallem in Moscow, Lavrov called on Syria to "place the chemical weapons under international control and then have them destroyed".

He 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.

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.

Lavrov's 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.

'Big step forward': Cameron

British Prime Minister David Cameron also welcomed a Russian proposal that Syria hand over its chemical weapons to the international community to avoid US military action.

"If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use under international supervision clearly that would be a big step forward," Cameron told parliament. "We have to be careful though to make sure this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the table."