14 Sep 2013

Chemical weapons out of Syria by 2014: US and Russia promise

But Syrian rebels say the US and Russian plan for decommissioning Assad’s chemical weapons ‘can go to hell’, won’t work and sets back the opposition cause.

Syria must submit a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons to the UN in one week, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov announced on Saturday morning. Inspectors will be in the country by November, and the decommissioning of Syria’s chemical weapons would be complete by mid 2014, the leaders announced to journalists in Geneva.

“The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments. There can be no games, no room for avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime,” Mr Kerry said.

There can be no games, no room for avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime – John Kerry

After three days of discussions, Russia and America have brokered an agreement on the amount and type of the chemical weapons to be handed over, and a timetable for Syria to do so.

If there was anything less than full compliance from President Assad – Mr Kerry said that the matter would be referred back to the UN Security Council. But he stopped short of saying force would be used.

Assad ‘already evading UN inspectors’

But President Assad has already been trying to evade UN inspection by moving his chemical weapon stockpiles to Iran and Lebanon, Syrian rebel leader General Selim Idris claimed.

General Idris said rebel brigades regard the proposed US-Russian deal to eliminate Assad’s chemical arsenal as a blow to their two-and-a-half-year uprising to remove Assad. He said that the rebels would co-operate with the UN but that the initiative would not resolve the crisis or help ordinary Syrians.Only 2 percent of the 100,000 deaths so far in Syria have been caused by chemical weapons.

Another member of the Syrian opposition military council took a harder line: Qassim Saadeddine told Reuters – “Let the Kerry-Lavrov plan go to hell. We reject it and we will not protect the inspectors or let them enter Syria.”

Let the Kerry-Lavrov plan go to hell. We reject it and we will not protect the inspectors – Qassim Saadeddine, Syrian opposition

The Syrian government has not formally commented on the proposal, but commenters suggest that the fact that the Kerry-Lavrov announcement was run on state TV suggests their approval of it.

‘Impossible task’ now possible?

Despite saying only one week ago that collecting chemical weapons from Syria in a time of civil war was impossible, Mr Kerry said Saturday that it was possible and could be performed as long as the regime fully co-operated. Responding to a question from a journalist he said:

“I purposefully made those comments in London that it was impossible and that President Assad would not do it, even as I hoped it would be possible, and I wanted him to do it.

“How do you do this in a time of war?

“We know they’ve moved them. We’ve seen them move them. Since these weapons are mainly in areas controlled by the regime, they ought to be accessible because the regime has agreed to give access.

“It shouldn’t be in a contested area largely because they’ve been working to keep it out of a contested area.”

Friendly relations

Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov hinted at the warmer relations between Russia and the US as a result of the talks dwelling on matters of common ground.

“We have long agreed that there is no military solution to the problems in Syria,” Mr Kerry said, while arguing that President Obama’s threat of military action had been as instrumental in achieving this diplomatic solution. Something President Assad had denied earlier this week.

Mr Lavrov even talked of “friendly” relations with the US and what could be achieved when the two co-operated.

France has welcomed the talks.