Kerry Arrives in Geneva to Test Russia on Syria Weapons
The meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are designed to test the credibility of Russia’s plan to avoid a U.S. military strike on Syria by requiring the war-torn Arab country to disclose all its chemical weapons and turn them over to international control.
The U.S. wants to probe the feasibility of such a plan by discussing details on how Syria’s 1,000 tons of chemical weapons would be collected and destroyed and how the process would be verified and enforced, according to a State Department official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive negotiations.
The U.S. will need to see benchmarks for progress and establish a timeline for action to assess the credibility of the proposal, the official said. One benchmark would be how quickly Syrian President Bashar al-Assad discloses his entire inventory of chemical weapons, the official said.
One potential obstacle to an agreement is a condition set by Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S. and other nations must renounce the use of force against Assad’s regime if negotiations are to go forward.
Kerry won’t negotiate with Lavrov the framework for a United Nations Security Council resolution that could establish whether military force could be used to enforce any disarmament plan, the official said, although issues of verification and enforcement will be discussed.
Kerry will want to discuss details of chemical stockpiles, production facilities, precursor chemicals and munitions used to spread chemical weapons, the official said.
The official also acknowledged the difficulty of establishing security for weapons inspectors in the middle of a Syrian civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people. Kerry has brought with him to Geneva a staff of technical experts to discuss details of the Assad regime’s stockpile and better assess the credibility of Russia’s plan, the official said.
Syrian opposition groups have expressed dismay at the Russian proposal and its adoption by the U.S., saying they don’t trust a chemical-weapons disarmament plan that may help prolong Assad’s rule.
The U.S. and allies blame the Assad regime for a chemical-weapons attack on Aug. 21 that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus. Putin has said opposition groups carried out the attack and insisted that any punitive strike without UN approval would be illegal.
In a rare appeal to the American public, Putin called on President Barack Obama to adopt the Russian-backed proposal as an alternative to military strikes on Syria. Putin, in an opinion article published last night by the New York Times, said he was encouraged that Obama has asked Congress to delay voting on a use-of-force measure while Russia’s offer is pursued.
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