Russia Proposes Solution To Syria's Chemical Weapons

Russia seized on an idea voiced by Secretary of State John Kerry and urged Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control. Russia's state-run news agency said Syria welcomed the proposal.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Day after day, the outlook for Syria keeps changing. A week and a half ago, President Obama seemed about to order airstrikes.

MONTAGNE: Then he was calling for approval from Congress. Then he seemed like he might get it.

INSKEEP: And then, it began to seem likely he would not. And now, after a stray remark from Secretary of State John Kerry, Syria and its ally Russia have grabbed an opportunity to propose a diplomatic solution.

MONTAGNE: In television interviews, the president welcomed the proposal.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will pursue this diplomatic track. I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a non-military way.

INSKEEP: He spoke there on Fox News. This latest idea would avoid a U.S.-led military strike, but the details are complicated. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports on this latest surprise.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: The chain of events apparently all started at a news conference in London, when Secretary of State John Kerry was asked how an attack on Syria might be averted. Kerry said this...

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over - all of it - without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it; and it can't be done, obviously.

FLINTOFF: That comment came as Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was holding talks in Moscow with his Syrian counterpart. Lavrov seized on the idea, and said that Russia would push Syria to accept international control of its chemical arsenal.

SERGEI LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He said that if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons makes it possible to avoid strikes, then we will immediately get to work with Damascus. That was quickly followed by a statement from Syria's foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, saying that Syria welcomed the proposal, although it didn't say whether the Syrian government would comply.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took up the idea, saying that he might propose it to the Security Council as a way of ending what he called the council's embarrassing paralysis.

Iran, a strong ally of Assad, said it supported the initiative, adding that international control would be a way to prevent the weapons from falling into rebel hands. An interesting twist on the idea came from France, where Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it deserved close scrutiny.

LAURENT FABIUS: (French spoken)

FLINTOFF: Fabius said the proposal would be acceptable under three conditions: Assad would have to quickly put his chemical arsenal under international control, and allow the weapons to be destroyed. Secondly, there should be serious consquences if Syria fails to comply. And finally, those responsible for carrying out the attack would have to face prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

Fabius says France will propose a U.N. Security Council resolution setting out those conditions. That would put the pressure back on Russia to get Syria to give up its chemical weapons, and it could force Russia into doing something it has refused to do up until now - that is, agree to a resolution that would commit to international action on Syria.

In his television interviews yesterday, President Obama said he was skeptical about whether Syria would really comply with the plan, but he said his diplomatic team would follow through.

OBAMA: John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see: Can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious?

FLINTOFF: Experts say the logistics of putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control would be extremely daunting in the middle of a fierce civil war. But diplomatic cooperation on the issue - especially between Russia and the United States - might open the door to more ways to resolve the crisis.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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