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U.S., Russia To Attempt To Revive Syria Peace Talks

September 13, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have said they hope talks on dismantling Syria's chemical weapons would help revive plans for an international conference aimed to end the war in Syria.

After meeting with UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Geneva on September 13, Kerry and Lavrov announced they would meet in New York later this month to agree on a date for the long-delayed conference.

Kerry and Lavrov are discussing a Russian initiative that would see Syria give up its chemical weapons in a bid to avoid threatened U.S. military strikes.

Earlier on September 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Syria's decision to join the global chemical-weapons ban showed the government was 'serious' about resolving the conflict.

U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened military strikes in response to last month's poison-gas attack near Damascus, which Washington says killed more than 1,400 people.

The United States and some Western allies have accused the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out the attack, a charge the Syrian government denies.

Kerry, at a joint press conference with Lavrov and Brahimi in Geneva Friday, said chances for an international peace conference -- dubbed Geneva 2 -- will depend on the success of the chemical-weapons talks.

'We've both agreed to do that homework and meet again in New York around the time of the UN General Assembly, around [September 28] in order to see if it is possible then to find the date for that conference, much of which will obviously depend on the capacity to have success here in the next hours, days on the subject of the chemical weapons,' Kerry said.

Lavrov said teams of U.S. and Russian experts were working through concrete steps to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons.

'Now that the al-Assad government joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, we have to engage our professionals, together with the Chemical Weapons Prohibition Organization, as we agreed with the United Nations, to design a road which would make sure that this issue is resolved quickly, professionally as soon as practical,' Lavrov said.

Chemical Weapons Convention

The United Nations has confirmed that Syria has formally applied to join the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention but has not confirmed it has been accepted. UN diplomats were quoted as saying it was not clear whether Syria has fulfilled all legal conditions for accession.

Speaking at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, Putin said Syria's move must be welcomed and reiterated Moscow's firm opposition to any use of military force. China and Iran also welcomed the Syrian decision.

Putin said the move showed the 'serious intentions' of the Syrian government to move toward settling the conflict in the country.

On September 12 Kerry warned the United States might still carry out its threat of military action if it was not satisfied with Syria's response.

Kerry said the threat of military force must remain if Assad failed to turn over his country's chemical-weapons stockpiles.

'Expectations are high. They are high for the United States, perhaps even more so for Russia to deliver on the promise of this moment,' Kerry said. 'This is not a game -- and I said that to my friend Sergei when we talked about it initially -- it has to be real.'
Washington has threatened military action against Assad after an August 21 poison-gas attack on Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds. But President Barack Obama put those plans on hold to give the Russian diplomatic effort a chance.

Speaking alongside Kerry, Lavrov said implementation of the plan would make military action unnecessary.

'We proceed from the fact that the solution of this problem will make unnecessary any strike on the Syrian Arab Republic, and I am convinced that our American colleagues, as President Obama stated, are firmly convinced that we should follow peaceful way of resolution of conflict in Syria,' the Russian foreign minister said.

Teams of experts are accompanying the two to work out an outline on how to secure Syria's chemical-weapons stockpiles as a civil war rages in the country. Talks in Geneva could go into the weekend.

Assad Credits Russia

Earlier, Assad told Russian TV that Syria had agreed to hand over its chemical weapons because of Russian diplomacy and not U.S. military threats.

Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, later told reporters on September 12 that he presented Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with 'the instrument of accession' to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Syria's top rebel commander, meanwhile, slammed the Russian proposal, calling for Assad to be put on trial for allegedly ordering the August 21 attack.

General Salim Idris added that the Free Syrian Army 'categorically rejects the Russian initiative' as falling short of the expectations of rebel fighters.

Russian President Putin in an opinion article published in 'The New York Times' blamed Syrian rebels for the August 21 gas attack.

A Pentagon spokesman, George Little, said more than 30 countries blamed Syrian government forces and said Russia was 'isolated' in blaming Syria's opposition.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/syria-us- russia-talks/25104730.html

Copyright (c) 2013. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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