U.S. and Russia attempt to bridge divides on deal to secure Syria's chemical weapons

13.09.2013 18:34

GENEVA (AP) — Prospects for restarting
peace talks in Syria's civil war depend
on the outcome of negotiations for the
Syrian government to give up its
chemical weapons, U.S. Secretary of
State John Kerry and Russian Foreign
Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday as
meetings on the arsenal lurched into a
second day.
Kerry and Lavrov met with U.N.-Arab
League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about
the potential for a new Geneva peace
conference, while a short distance away
American and Russian chemical
weapons experts were huddled in a
hotel to haggle over technical details
critical to a deal on chemical weapons.
In the background was the lingering
threat of a limited U.S. military strike
against Syria if President Bashar Assad
doesn't hand over his chemical weapons
in time.
Brahimi acknowledged the high stakes.
He told Kerry and Lavov that their
chemical weapons negotiation "is
extremely important in itself and for
itself, but it is also extremely important
for us who are working with you on
trying to bring together the Geneva
conference successfully."
More than 100,000 people have been
killed in two years of civil war. On
Friday the international group Human
Rights Watch accused the Syrian
government and militias fighting on its
side of carrying out summary executions
that killed at least 248 people in two
towns in May.
Kerry, flanked by Lavrov and Brahimi,
told reporters after an hourlong meeting
that the chances for a second peace
conference in Geneva will require
success first with the chemical weapons
talks, which have been "constructive" so
"I will say on behalf of the United
States that President (Barack) Obama is
deeply committed to a negotiated
solution with respect to Syria, and we
know that Russia is likewise. We are
working hard to find the common
ground to be able to make that
happen," Kerry said.
"We discussed some of the homework
that we both need to do," he added.
Kerry said they agreed to meet around
Sept. 28 on the sidelines of the annual
U.N. General Assembly high-level
meetings in New York.
But, he said, the future of peace
negotiations depends on the outcome of
the weapons talks.
"We are committed to try to work
together, beginning with this initiative
on the chemical weapons, in hopes that
those efforts could pay off and bring
peace and stability to a war-torn part of
the world," he added.
Brahimi also met privately with Kerry
at a Geneva hotel on Thursday to
explore ways to resume international
negotiations last held in Geneva in June
2012 aimed at ending the Syrian civil
Lavrov said Russia has supported the
peace process from the start of the
Syrian conflict and said he had
discussed with Kerry and Brahimi the
Geneva communique from the 2012
meeting on Syria and ways of preparing
for a second conference.
"It is very unfortunate that for a long
period the Geneva communique was
basically abandoned," said Lavrov.
He said that document "means that the
Syrian parties must reach mutual
consent on the transitional governing
organ, which would come with full
executive authority. And the
communique also says that all groups of
Syrian society must be represented."
When the chemical weapons talks began
Thursday, Kerry bluntly rejected a
Syrian pledge to begin a "standard
process" by turning over information
rather than weapons — and nothing
immediately. The American diplomat
said that was not acceptable.
"The words of the Syrian regime, in our
judgment, are simply not enough,"
Kerry declared as he stood beside
Lavrov. "This is not a game."
Salem Al Meslet, a senior member of the
opposition Syrian National Coalition,
said he was disappointed that the Kerry
and Lavrov meeting on chemical
weapons wasn't about punishing Assad.
"They are leaving the murderer and
concentrating on the weapons he was
using," he said of Assad. "It is like
stabbing somebody with a knife then
they take the knife away and he is free."
He spoke on the sidelines of a two-day
opposition conference in Istanbul.
The talks were the latest in a rapidly
moving series of events following the
Aug. 21 gas attack on suburbs in
Damascus. The U.S. blames Assad for
the use of chemical weapons. Assad
denies his government was involved
and instead points to the rebels fighting
a 2-year-old civil war against it.
President Barack Obama began trying to
win support at home and abroad for a
punitive military strike on Assad's
forces, but put that effort on hold when
the Syrian government expressed
willingness to turn over weapons to
international control.
Obama dispatched Kerry to Geneva to
hammer out the details of the proposal
even as he kept alive the possibility of
U.S. military action.
U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq
said Friday that the documents Syria
submitted to join the international
treaty banning chemical weapons were
still being reviewed to determine
whether they provide enough
information. If accepted as complete,
Syria would become a party to the
Chemical Weapons Convention 30 days
later, Haq said.
Syria's ambassador to the United
Nations had said that as of Thursday
when it submitted the documents his
country had become a full member of
the treaty, which requires destruction of
all chemical weapons.
Assad, in an interview with Russia's
Rossiya-24 TV, said his government
would start submitting data on its
chemical weapons stockpile a month
after signing the convention. He also
said the Russian proposal for securing
the weapons could work only if the U.S.
halted threats of military action.
At a meeting in Kyrgyzstan on Friday,
Russian President Vladimir Putin said
that Syria's efforts have demonstrated
its good faith.
"I would like to voice hope that this
will mark a serious step toward the
settlement of the Syrian crisis," Putin