UN Chief Backs Russian Push for Syrian Chemical Weapons Transfer
WASHINGTON, September 9 (RIA Novosti) – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday backed a proposal from Moscow for Syria to place its stocks of chemical weapons under international control, in a bid to avert US-led military strikes on the war-torn Middle Eastern country.
"I am considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria's chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed," Ban told a news conference, saying he welcomed a pledge made earlier by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to press Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control.
If Syria agrees to hand over its chemical weapons, Ban said he was in no doubt that the international community would act quickly "to make sure these chemical weapons stocks will be stored safely and destroyed."
Ban was speaking to reporters at the UN for the first time since returning from last week's G20 summit in St. Petersburg, which he said was dominated by Syria "in a way no other political development has ever done at a G20 summit."
"It also dominated all the bilateral meetings I had with world leaders," Ban said, adding that the talks he held in Russia focused largely on the still pending report by UN inspectors on whether chemical weapons were used in an attack on a Damascus suburb on Aug. 21, in which Ban said hundreds were killed.
The United States has said more than 1,400 died in the attack, and that it has evidence it was carried out by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Russian obstructionism for the Security Council's failure to take action in the wake of the Aug. 21 attack, and said the United States would act against the Assad regime without waiting for a UN resolution, which hinges on what the UN investigators' report says.
Ban said he did not know what the report would contain, but said if it confirms that chemical weapons were used in the attack, "this would be an abominable crime and the international community would have to do something about it."
Confirmation of the use of chemical weapons in the attack would also "surely be something around which the Security Council could unite in response, and indeed something that would merit international condemnation," Ban said, adding that the Security Council's response so far to the civil war in Syria has been one of "embarrassing paralysis."
The Obama administration has been lobbying for Congressional approval for limited military strikes against Syria in retaliation for the alleged chemical weapons attack, and both houses of Congress are expected to vote as early as this week on whether to authorize the use of force.
But on Monday, Kerry appeared to take a step back from military action when he said Assad could resolve the crisis surrounding the alleged use of chemical weapons by his forces by surrendering control of 'every single bit' of his arsenal to the international community by the end of the week, a move Ban also welcomed.
Hours after meeting with Lavrov in Moscow, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said his country welcomes Russia's proposal for it to place its chemical weapons under international control and dismantle them, according to The Associated Press.
But even if Syria agrees to hand over its chemical weapons arsenal to the international community, Ban said "there remains an urgent need" to convene an international conference on Syria, which the United States and Russia proposed holding in Geneva several months ago, but which has stalled amid differences including who should attend and what should be up for discussion.
"There is an urgent need for the cessation of hostilities – the Syrian people need peace," he said.
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