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Russia hands chemical arms plan to US

September 12, 2013

PARIS, Sept 11: Russia said on Wednesday it had given the US a plan to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, raising hopes of a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

The move came a day after threatened US-led strikes against President Bashar al Assad’s regime were put on ice in response to Russia’s offer to oversee Syria giving up its arsenal after Washington accused Damascus of using deadly sarin gas against its own people last month.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday for talks on the disarmament process that are expected to run until Friday at least.

“We handed over to the Americans a plan to place chemical weapons in Syria under international control. We expect to discuss it in Geneva,” Russian news agencies quoted a source in the Russian delegation to the talks as saying.

Russian officials provided no details of the plan which has effectively pushed military action off the table for the time being, although both the US and France stressed it remains an option if Syria is seen to be stalling.

US President Barack Obama has expressed optimism that the Russian initiative can lead to the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons without the use of force.

The switch to diplomacy was welcomed on Wednesday by China, which also praised Syria’s offer to sign an international treaty banning chemical weapons.

“We hope all relevant sides can grasp this opportunity to solve the Syria problem through diplomatic and political means,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.

France insisted military action remained an option. “France will remain, in permanent contact with its partners, mobilised to punish the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and to deter them from using them again,” President Francois Hollande said after talks with his military chiefs.

Amongst Western leaders, Mr Hollande has been the leading advocate of intervention in Syria, although, like Mr Obama, he has been unable to convince a majority of his electorate of the case for action.

Mr Obama said US cruise missile destroyers would remain in place within striking distance of Syria, warning that “the US military doesn’t do pinpricks”.

Israel’s President Shimon Peres said he believed Mr Obama would not back away from air strikes if Syria was shown to be acting in bad faith.

“If there will be a crack in Syria’s integrity I have no doubt that the US will act militarily,” Mr Peres said.

Syria was threatened with strikes in response to the use of sarin gas in an Aug 21 attack on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus. The US says the attack killed more than 1,400 people and was carried out by Mr Assad’s forces, a claim the regime denies.—AFP