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.
“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, 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.
But in an interview Tuesday with Lebanese media, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said that his government would provide “information about our chemical weapons,” according to Russia’s state-funded RT television network.“We will open our storage sites and cease production. We intend to give up chemical weapons altogether.”
Moualem said Syria “fully supports” the Russian initiative and intends “to join the Chemical Weapons Convention” that renounces all chemical use.
The text of the proposed U.N. resolution was outlined Tuesday morning in Paris by Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister. It would authorize an investigation by the International Criminal Court into war crimes perpetrated by the Assad government, according to a diplomat familiar with the text.
In addition to Lavrov’s rejection of U.N. authorization of the use of force, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement indicated that Moscow does not want a Security Council resolution at all. Instead, the statement said, Russia envisions a statement by the council’s president — who rotates and is now an Australian representative — that would “welcome” the plan to monitor and ultimately destroy Syria’s chemical weapons and call on “interested parties” to carry out the plan.
In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron told members of Parliament that the bare-bones Russian proposal was “definitely worth exploring” but that it must be “tested out properly” to ensure it was not a “ruse.” Any Security Council resolution, he said, must include “a proper timetable, process and consequences if it’s not done.”
Just two weeks ago, Cameron appeared to become peripheral to international action on Syria, after Parliament rejected his proposal to join the United States in a military strike. But the turn of events appeared to place him back in the mix as a close U.S. partner, along with France.
The Arab League, which the United States has looked toward for support for a military strike on Syria, welcomed the Russian proposal Tuesday. Speaking at its organization’s Cairo headquarters, Arab League head Nabil Elaraby told reporters that it had always been in favor of a “political solution” to the Syrian crisis, the Associated Press reported, saying that Elaraby added, “Thank God.”
Iran, among Assad’s strongest supporters, also voiced support for the plan. Quoting Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said that Damascus and Tehran welcomed the proposal as a way of preparing the ground for resolving the Syrian crisis through political means.
The Iranian news agency also said the deputy minister expected the entire region to be cleared of weapons of mass destruction, noting that Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons should also be “taken into consideration.”
Lynch reported from the United Nations. Debbi Wilgoren and Anne Gearan in Washington, Michael Birnbaum in Berlin, Will Englund in Moscow and William Wan in Beijing contributed to this report.