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Syrian FM: Syria will sign arms ban, open storage sites

Sep. 10, 2013 - 09:27PM   |  
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, left, gives a press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Sept.9 following a meeting in Moscow. Muallem said Tuesday that Damascus is ready to sign an international agreement banning chemical weapons and pledged to open its storage sites and provide full disclosure immediately. (Yuri Kadobnov / AFP via Getty Images)
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Syria’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Damascus is ready to sign an international agreement banning chemical weapons and pledged to open its storage sites and provide full disclosure immediately.

“We fully support Russia’s initiative concerning chemical weapons in Syria, and we are ready to cooperate. As a part of the plan, we intend to join the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in an interview with Lebanon-based Al-Maydeen TV.

He said Syria was “ready to fulfill our obligations” under the terms of the treaty, including providing information about Syria’s chemical weapons.

“We will open our storage sites, and cease production. We are ready to open these facilities to Russia, other countries and the United Nations,” Muallem said in the interview.

He added: “We intend to give up chemical weapons altogether.”

The report on the interview was carried by the Associated Press and RIA Novosti.

The report comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin told that an agreement in which Syria would turn over its chemical weapons to international control would only work if the United States and its allies renounce the use of force against Damascus.

Muallem has been in Moscow for talks with Russian officials about the chemical weapons crisis.

Syria is one of only five countries — including North Korea, Angola, Egypt and South Sudan — that has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention that was drawn up in 1993.

The arms control agreement bans the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and their precursors.

Muallem’s pledge to sign the agreement and opens Syria’s storage sites comes amid a flurry of diplomatic moves around a Russian proposal that Syria place its chemical arms under international control.

Syria has agreed to the proposal and France has proposed a related resolution for the United Nations.

Putin acknowledged that he had discussed such a possibility with President Obama on the sidelines of the G-20 summit last week in St. Petersburg.

It was agreed, Putin said, “to instruct Secretary of State [John Kerry] and Foreign Minister [Sergey Lavrov] to get in touch” and “try to move this idea forward.”

Putin fleshed out the proposal Tuesday, saying it would only work if Washington called off its strike against Damascus.

“Certainly, this is all reasonable, it will function and will work out, only if the US and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force, because it is difficult to make any country — Syria or any other country in the world — to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration,” Putin said on Tuesday.

Obama has threatened to use U.S. military action against Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 people in a Damascus suburb. Syria has denied the charge.

Obama, who will address the nation Tuesday night, spoke Tuesday with the leaders of France and the United Kingdom, and agreed to explore whether the Russian proposal, senior White House officials said.Syria,

He was also discussing the issues on Capitol Hill.

The Syrian government kicked off a flurry of diplomatic activity Tuesday over the Syrian crisis by saying it accepted the Russian proposal, which was put forth on Monday.

The statement by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem in Moscow was among a series of diplomatic moves that suggested a possible way to avoid a threatened U.S. attack on Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons.

In other developments:

■ France said it would put a resolution before the U.N. Security Council appealing to Syria to make public details of its chemical weapons program.

■ The Arab League said it backs the Russian proposal calling on Syria to puts it chemical weapons under international control.

■ Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed cautious support for the proposal, but said it must not be used as a diplomatic stalling tactic.

The diplomatic maneuvering, which began Monday with public comments by Kerry followed by the Russian proposal, gathered pace overnight, with Syria’s foreign minister saying Tuesday that his government would accept the Russian outline for a diplomatic solution.

“Yesterday [Monday] we held a round of very fruitful negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and he put forward an initiative regarding chemical weapons. Already in the evening we accepted Russia’s initiative,” Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said after meeting with the speaker of the Russian parliament.

Muallem said Damascus accepted the Russian initiative to “derail the U.S. aggression.”

The report was initially carried by the Russian news agency Interfax.

Meanwhile, Lavrov said that Russia is now working with Syria to prepare a detailed plan of action, which will be presented shortly.

He said Moscow will then be ready to finalize the plan together with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The announcement by France for a resolution at the U.N. Security Council was made in Paris by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

It was not immediately clear whether the terms of an agreement accepted by Syria would track with the French proposal, but it was a sign of further diplomatic progress on the issue.

Fabius said the terms of the resolution will call for an “extremely serious” response were Syria to violate the conditions set by the resolution. He said the process — under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter — will start later Tuesday.

France is a permanent member of the Security Council. The other permanent members are the United States, United Kingdom, China and Russia. Permanent members have the power to veto resolutions.

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