Syria could turn over chemical weapons to avoid US attack
(CNN) – As Syria said Monday that it supported a proposal to hand over control of its chemical weapons, a key question loomed: Is a diplomatic solution in sight?
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Moscow that his nation “welcomes” a proposal Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made during talks Monday morning: put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control to avert a U.S. military response.
“I declare that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes Russia’s initiative, on the basis that the Syrian leadership cares about the lives of our citizens and the security in our country,” Moallem said. “We are also confident in the wisdom of the Russian government, which is trying to prevent an American aggression against our people.”
The comments came after Secretary of State John Kerry discussed a similar scenario, but a State Department spokeswoman said earlier Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could not be trusted to hand over the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.
The White House did not immediately respond to Syria’s statement Monday.
But when asked last week about the possibility of requiring Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons stockpiles as a solution to stave off military action, U.S. President Barack Obama appeared skeptical of that approach.
“We will look at these ideas,” Obama said. “So far, at least, I have not seen ideas presented that, as a practical matter, I think would do the job.”
Earlier Monday, Kerry said that al-Assad “could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.”
But speaking at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Kerry described that as an impossible scenario.
“He isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done obviously,” Kerry said.
The State Department later sought to clarify Kerry’s comment as a “rhetorical argument,” and a U.S. official called the secretary of state’s remarks a “major goof.”
“His 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,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “That’s why the world faces this moment.”
A U.S. official said the proposal isn’t a serious option.
“There is no one in the administration who is taking this Syria proposal seriously,” the official said, calling Kerry’s remarks a major goof and saying the secretary of state “clearly went off script here.”
The Obama administration says the al-Assad government was responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that it said killed more than 1,400 people.
Obama is seeking congressional approval for a military strike in response but is so far meeting resistance from lawmakers and the public, concerned about the United States again intervening militarily in a foreign crisis.
Syria has been engulfed in a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people over the past two years, according to U.N. estimates.
Kerry is due to participate in a classified briefing about Syria to members of the House of Representatives after his return from London later Monday.