Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry have begun crunch talks in Geneva on Syria. The UN says it has received a Syrian document on joining the global anti-chemical weapons treaty.
Decisive top-level talks on Syria between the US and Russia began in Geneva on Thursday amid signals from Damascus that it might join a key weapons-ban treaty prior to allowing international inspectors to locate and destroy arsenals.
Kerry, speaking at an opening-round press conference at a Geneva hotel, said the US could not trust the Syrian regime to rid itself of chemical weapons alone.
“The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough, which is why we’ve come here in order to work with the Russians,” Kerry said just ahead of their encounter.
Lavrov said the “solution of this problem makes unnecessary any strikes on Syria.”
“I am sure our American partners … are strongly in favor of a peaceful way to regulate chemical weapons in Syria,” Lavrov added.
US President Barack Obama put US planning for military strikes on Syria on hold on Tuesday when Russia came up with an 11th-hour proposal for Syria to agree to give up its chemical arms.
The diplomatic initiative stalled plans by the US and France for military strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons in eastern Damascus on August 21.
Kerry, quoting US intelligence, has said 1,429 people, including children, were killed. Assad’s regime has blamed Syrian rebels in the area.
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) rejected the Russian move on Thursday and called for regime officials to be brought to justice.
The head of the FSA’s military council Salim Idriss in a video posted in the Internet said Russia was staging a “political maneuver aimed at buying time” for Assad.
At the United Nations in New York, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said translators were at work on a document received from the Syrian government, “which is to be an accession document concerning the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
Syria is one of only seven countries not the have joined the 1997 convention.
Assad defies US
Earlier on Thursday, Assad had told Russian state television that his government would send documents on joining the convention, but said he would only finalize plans to abandon Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal when the US stopped threatening to attack him.
“The petition will contain technical documents required to sign the agreement,” Assad said, but added: “This is a bilateral process; it is aimed, first and foremost, at the United States ending the policy of threats targeted at Syria.”
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Assad as saying he had agreed because of Moscow’s diplomacy, not Washington’s threats.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in an opinion article published in the New York Times on Thursday also blamed Syrian rebels for the August 21 gas attack.
A Pentagon spokesman, George Little, said more than 30 countries blamed Syrian government forces and said Russia was “isolated” in blaming Syria’s opposition.
ipj/dr (Reuters, AFP, dpa)