GENEVA: Russia and the United States ( US) were on Friday set to huddle for a second day of key talks on how to secure Syria’s chemical weapons amid reports Damascus was scattering the stockpile to frustrate efforts to track the deadly arsenal.
Syria’s key ally Russia has proposed that Damascus give up its chemical weapons in a bid to avoid threatened military strikes by the US, and on Thursday Washington and Moscow’s top diplomats began poring over the logistics of the plan at a Geneva hotel.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad confirmed for the first time on Thursday that Syria planned to relinquish its chemical arms, but demanded that the US first drop its threat of military action against his regime.
“When we see that the United States truly desires stability in our region and stops threatening and seeking to invade, as well as stops arms supplies to terrorists, then we can believe that we can follow through with the necessary processes,” Assad told Russian television.
But Washington, which has threatened military strikes over an alleged chemical attack by Assad forces on a Damascus suburb, warned the regime that words alone were not enough.
“The words of the Syrian regime in our judgement are simply not enough,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Any deal to bring Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile under international control “has to be credible. It has to be timely and implemented in a timely fashion,” he said.
Hours before Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov were to resume the high-stakes talks, reports emerged that a secret Syrian military unit has been scattering its cache of the deadly weapons around the country.
The unit had been given responsibility to shift the arsenal of poison gases and munitions around the country, the Wall Street Journal reported citing US and Middle Eastern officials.
The report will fuel the skepticism of critics who have questioned whether the Russian proposal is viable or whether Syria is sincere about wanting to cede control of the weapons.
The Russian proposal calls for a four-step process for the weapons handover, according to the Kommersant daily.
The plan calls for Damascus to join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), declare the locations of its chemical arms, allow OPCW inspectors access and finally arrange for destruction of the arsenal.
Syria’s opposition has denounced the proposal, warning it will only lead to more deaths in a conflict that has already claimed more than 110,000 lives since March 2011.
In a concrete move towards disarmament, Syria on Thursday filed documents at the United Nations (UN) seeking to join the international convention banning chemical weapons.
Damascus said it now considers itself a full member of the convention. While UN leader Ban Ki-moon welcomed the application, the United Nations would not immediately confirm it had been accepted.