President Bashar al-Assad said Thursday Washington must stop arming rebels and stop threatening military force if it wanted a plan for Syria to hand over chemical weapons to work.
“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,” he told Russian television, adding that Washington should dispense with the “politics of threats.”
But he also signaled that he was willing to comply with international pressure.
“Syria will be sending an appeal to the UN and the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in a few days, which will have technical documents necessary to sign the agreement,” he added in translated remarks.
“Syria is handing over chemical weapons under international control because of Russia,” Assad was quoted as telling Rossiya 24 state news channel. “US threats have not affected the decision,” he added.
Syrian opposition groups categorically rejected Thursday a Russian proposal for placing Syria’s chemical arms under international control, and called for government officials to be brought to justice.
Meanwhile, Washington called Thursday on the Syrian government to quickly declare the scope and size of its chemical weapons stockpile as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva for high-stakes talks.
“It’s doable, but difficult,” a US official told reporters accompanying the top US diplomat.
The Syrian National Coalition opposition group questioned the initiative, saying it is a “political maneuver aimed at buying time” for Assad.
“The Free Syrian Army announces its categorical rejection of the Russian initiative that foresees placing chemical weapons under international control,” FSA military commander General Selim Idriss said in a video posted on YouTube.
Idriss told world powers they should not “be satisfied only by removing the chemical weapon, which is the tool of a crime, but judge the author of the crime before the International Criminal Court, who has clearly acknowledged possessing it and agreed to get rid of it.”
Questioning the motives for the initiative by Russia, the Coalition’s overnight statement also said it would be unacceptable unless it “called to account the crimes against the Syrian people.”
And any measures should be adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for possible military measures.
Idriss also called on countries backing the 30-month uprising against Assad to increase the supply of arms to the rebels so that they can “continue to liberate the country.”
And he exhorted his fighters to “intensify operations in all regions of the country.”
The United States claims that the Syrian government carried out chemical weapons strikes on a number of Damascus suburbs on August 21, and threatened to carry out punitive strikes.
Assad’s government denies any responsibility in the chemical attack, saying rebels were behind it to garner international momentum against Assad.
Russia on Monday announced a proposal under which Syria would turn over its chemical weapons, and US President Barack Obama postponed any military action to consider the Russian initiative.
The four-point plan, details of which were disclosed on Wednesday, would see Syria becoming a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, according to a report in Moscow.
Syria would then have to declare the location of chemical weapons arsenals and, then allow OPCW inspectors to examine them and finally decide, in cooperation with the inspectors, how to destroy them.
UN inspectors have already visited the sites of the alleged attacks in Damascus, and France has said their report will probably be issued on Monday.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told French radio Thursday “it will say that there was a chemical massacre” and that “there will certainly be indications” of the origin of the attack.
Diplomats have said the report is unlikely to pin blame on either side in the conflict, but that it would contain enough detail to suggest which party was responsible.
The European Parliament on Thursday urged a “clear, strong, targeted and united” international response, including “deterrent measures” if needed, to the attack
Welcoming the plan, the 751-seat assembly added that the use of such weapons “requires a clear, strong, targeted and united response, not excluding eventual deterrent measures.”
“In the event of failure to comply, this measure might be imposed on the basis of all the instruments provided for in the United Nations Charter,” the resolution said..
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Geneva on Thursday to try to agree on a strategy to eliminate the chemical arsenal.
The top Russian diplomat said on a visit to Kazakhstan before heading to Geneva that both Russia and the United States would be taking experts on chemical weapons to the talks.
Lavrov said he did not rule out UN-Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi joining the talks in Geneva to discuss a stalled US-Russian initiative for a peace conference in the Swiss city.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)