Russia's plan to place the Syrian chemical arsenal under outside monitoring and eventual elimination will be the focus of a Thursday meeting in Switzerland between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov, his Russian equivalent, a high-level State Department insider told the Washington Post.
Ensuring that Moscow's blueprint would cover all of the country's chemical-warfare stocks in a confirmable matter would be among Kerry's central objectives in the planned Geneva exchange with Lavrov, who is the Russian foreign minister, the source said.
Russia's proposal actually is based on an idea that Obama raised with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a meeting more than a year ago, based on the notional concept of somehow securing all of Syria's chemical stocks, the New York Times reported late on Tuesday.
Kerry was the first to publicly raise the proposal early this week in what seemed like a casual remark, following a private one-on-one about the matter between Obama and Putin last Friday. The secretary of State has been skeptical about Syria's possible chemical disarmament each time the subject arose in the course of nine telephone conversations he had with Lavrov since the alleged Syrian regime chemical strike last month, according to the Times.
U.S. policy-makers reportedly are wary about the feasibility of a potential effort to corral and dispose of the arms in the midst of Syria's civil war, now in its third year.
“We want to make sure this isn’t simply a rabbit hole, but rather a pathway to achieving our objective,” said a senior administration official quoted by the Times on condition of anonymity. The detailed Russian proposal and Syrian acceptance "suggests this really could be a successful course of action, but we still have to test it," the official said.
Kerry also plans to stress that Washington and its allies want a potential chemical-disarmament plan to be flexible enough to react to any missteps by Damascus, the Post reported, citing an unidentified State Department source.
“We’re waiting for that proposal,” the senior administration official said, “but we’re not waiting long. We will take a hard look at it, but it has to be swift, it has to be real, and it has to be verifiable. . . . If the U.N. Security Council seeks to be the vehicle to make it happen, well, then, it can’t be a debating society.”
Moscow on Tuesday ruled out a French-drafted U.N. measure that would allow for an armed response to noncompliance by Damascus. For a disarmament deal to work, Washington and other governments must "tell us they’re giving up their plan to use force against Syria," Putin said.
Russia might oppose passage of any Security Council measure on the matter in favor of a statement by the body's current head, the Post said, citing remarks released by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
In a Tuesday evening White House address, President Obama said he was encouraged the Russian disarmament proposal, which could call for Syria to accede to an international chemical-weapons ban. He attributed the new development, in part, to a "credible threat of U.S. military action" in response to last month's reported nerve gas strike, which Washington believes to have killed more than 1,400 people on the outskirts of Damascus.
"It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that [Syrian President Bashar Assad's] regime keeps its commitments," Obama said. "But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies."
The president said he "asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path."
This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.