Syrian Officials Pushing Back Against Giving Up Chemical Weapons

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is at the center of the debates over how to place Syrian chemical stocks under international control. (MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)

The lawyerly wrangling over how to compose documents that would spell out what the international community is to do with Syria’s chemical weapons has begun now that negotiations have kicked off in earnest.

With American and French warships prowling the waters of the eastern Mediterranean in the event that diplomacy fails, things continued to move quickly on Wednesday morning with the Russian state-run news agency Interfax reporting that Moscow has “handed over” to the United States its plan for “introducing international control over Syrian war chemicals.”

Quoting an anonymous Russian source who the agency said is a member of the delegation “accompanying Russian foreign minister during his visit to Kazakhstan and Switzerland,” the story confirmed that the plan will be hashed out during a meeting in Geneva on Thursday between John Kerry and Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

Reports coming out of Damascus also point to the razor thin lines that policymakers are beginning to draw to govern what will happen next.

The AP quoted an anonymous Syrian senior government official who called the Russian initiative a “broad headline” that is merely the starting point for discussion.

Real disconnects are already beginning to emerge in the expectations that the United States is carrying into the negotiation process, and those that Syria and its benefactor Russia may hold.

Syrian Cabinet Minister Ali Haidar told AP reporters that Syria’s chemical weapons exist in order to create a strategic buffer against Israel, “an enemy that we’ve been fighting for more than 60 years.”

But he also added that in the initial Russian proposal to bring the international community in to secure Syrian chemical weapons stocks, “there was no talk about moving and transferring control. There was talk about putting these weapons under international supervision.”

Whether or not that means Syria will refuse to give up control of the weapons, or destroy them, is unclear.

In an interview with France’s Inter radio, Russia’s Ambassador the France Alexandre Orlov also reiterated Moscow’s claim that the rebel forces fighting the Assad regime also possess chemical weapons. “It’s sure there are chemical weapons on both sides,” he said. “The important thing is to forbid them, put them under international control. Then we will see who uses them.”

 

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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