US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have announced they are ready to flesh out a diplomacy move to deal with Syria's chemical weapons program.
"Immense" difficulties exist, but the move would go ahead, said Kerry during a joint press conference with Lavrov following their bilateral meeting in Geneva.
A plan tabled by Russia earlier this week aims to place Syria's deadly gas stockpiles under international control and have the regime abide by an international convention banning chemical weapons.
Lavrov said a solution would make any strikes “unnecessary”, while Kerry said solution through peaceful means would be "clearly preferable" and would spell a "historic moment" in the global fight against chemical weapons use.
Kerry said the chemical weapons attack on August 21 that the US says killed nearly 1,500 people remains a "stain" on the world's conscience.
He said that the initiative was "not a game," urging Damascus to keep its promises.
The Syrian government has confirmed the plan, and said it would sign the international agreement banning chemical weapons.
The United Nations has said it has received documents from Syria necessary to initiate the signing process.
The talks between Kerry and Lavrov in Geneva are planned to last two days till Friday but may extend into Saturday. Kerry will also meet joint UN-Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva.
- Words ‘not enough’
After weeks of heated speculation on a US-led military response to last month's gas attack in Syria, the US and Russia now hold out hope for a diplomatic solution.
Washington and Moscow earlier signaled echoing positions on the plan, describing it as an opportunity not to be missed.
"I am sure that there is a chance for peace in Syria. We cannot let it slip away,” Lavrov said on a visit to Kazakhstan. During the conference, he added the recent developments would help create the occasion for a possible 'Geneva-II' conference to further efforts towards a political solution to Syria's civil war.
The White House echoed Lavrov’s position on Wednesday, when Press Secretary Jay Carney said Russia's plan presented a “real opportunity.”
However, the two countries still admit reservations. The US says the military option remains on the table in case diplomacy fails, while Russia warns against unilateral action, urging the international community to work through the United Nations.
Kerry allowed US and Russia continue to differ on the gas attack, especially on who is responsible for it.
Lavrov’s plan, which he announced on Monday, requires the Syrian regime to join the Chemical Weapons Convention and disclose its chemical weapons program, which Kerry said the Syrian regime has thirty days to do.
Kerry’s stance on the Syrian government seconds Obama’s earlier statement that there is lingering skepticism on the US side towards the regime’s credibility.
“This is not a game. It has to be real, comprehensive, verifiable, credible, and timely... Finally, there ought to be consequences if it doesn't take place,” Kerry said.
"The words of the regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough."
Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday also expressed doubt at the Syrian regime's commitment to placing its chemical weapons arsenal under international control.
"The Assad regime has never kept any of its promises until now, but broke all of them to buy time for more massacres. He bought and continues to buy time," Erdogan said during a business meeting in Istanbul.
- US threat ‘not a factor’
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad confirmed Russia’s initiative in an interview aired Wednesday on Russian TV network Rossiya-24, saying Syria would join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it refused to sign twenty years ago.
He said the current diplomatic initiative was a result of Russia’s diplomatic efforts, rather than a US military threat.
"Syria is placing its chemical weapons under international control because of Russia. The US threats did not influence the decision," he said.
Russia’s plan continues to be discussed by permanent members of the Security Council. The permanent five are said to differ on the specifics of a resolution on a planned international response, as Russia stands against putting a timetable on the disarmament of the Syrian government and objects to including threat of force.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday emphasized the need to avoid unilateral action and use the United Nations platform for a resolution.
In an op-ed piece published on the New York Times, Putin warned that a possible strike would "increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism.” (aa)