By mid-morning, Russia had rejected a proposed U.N. resolution, announced by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and called an emergency Security Council meeting. Lavrov called the threat of military action “unacceptable,” and Russian President Vladmir Putin said a weapons deal would work only if the United States and others “tell us they’re giving up their plan to use force against Syria.”
After an afternoon telephone conversation between Kerry and Lavrov, the Russians dropped their demand for the emergency meeting and instead agreed that Kerry and Lavrov should talk face to face.
The purpose, a senior State Department official said, is to make sure that what Russia has in mind for Syria’s weapons is comprehensive and verifiable in the midst of a protracted civil war, and to make clear that the United States and its partners insist that the proposal includes consequences if Syria does not comply.
“We’re waiting for that proposal,” a 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.”
Just a day after Russia made the surprise weapons proposal and Syria immediately announced its agreement, the Western partners remained wary that it was a ploy designed to head off President Obama’s plan to launch a U.S. military strike. Kerry and other senior administration officials continued previously scheduled congressional briefings to build support for a what it has been called a “limited” attack to punish Syria for using chemical weapons outside Damascus last month, killing more than 1,400 people.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition was unequivocal in its assessment, calling the initiative a strategy to stall for time and an inadequate response to a chemical attack that had already taken place.
“Crimes against humanity cannot be absolved through political concessions, or surrendering the weapons used to commit them,” the coalition said in a statement.
Although Syria is believed to have large stockpiles of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, sarin and other nerve agents, its government has never explicitly acknowledged possessing them. In a CBS interview last weekend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied that any government chemical attack had taken place. He refused to confirm the existence of the stockpiles and accused the opposition of gassing his soldiers.