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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia, US, UN Envoy Discuss Syria Chemical Weapons

RIA Novosti

19:07 13/09/2013

GENEVA/MOSCOW, September 13 (RIA Novosti) – The US and Russian foreign ministers and a UN envoy met in Geneva on Friday to discuss Moscow's proposal for placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control – an idea meant to avert US airstrikes against the Middle Eastern country but yielding few tangible results beyond that for now.

No agreement on how to proceed in Syria had been reached as of Friday afternoon among US Secretary of State John Kerry, his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and the UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. However, the three diplomats plan to continue talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, tentatively on September 28, Lavrov said.

That planned meeting could also include a discussion of a peace process on Syria, specifically through the long-stalled Geneva-2 conference, envisioned as a way to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table. But Kerry, addressing reporters after Friday's meeting, explicitly linked prospects for the conference with success in the chemical weapons talks, according to a transcript on the US State Department website.

Lavrov, meanwhile, said that, in light of Syria's recent agreement to sign a major international convention on chemical weapons, all the stakeholders, together with UN chemical weapons experts, must develop a road map "to resolve this issue as quickly and professionally as is practically possible."

While the three diplomats met at the UN European headquarters, US and Russian weapons experts "huddled in a [nearby] Geneva hotel to haggle over technical details that will be critical to reach a deal," the Associated Press said.

Kerry and Lavrov held their first round of talks in Geneva late Thursday and, though the US diplomat later described them as "constructive," signs of contention were readily apparent. The two clearly held differing views on Syrian President Bashar Assad's announcement, made just before their Thursday meeting, that his country would begin a "standard" chemical weapons handover process by providing the international community with data on its stockpiles within 30 days of signing the convention.

While Lavrov welcomed the news, Kerry expressed deep skepticism.

"There is nothing standard about this process … and the words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough," Kerry said ahead of the talks with Lavrov on Thursday, according to the State Department transcript.

Washington has accused Assad's government, which has been battling a domestic insurgency for over two years, of killing hundreds of civilians outside Damascus with poison gas on August 21, and has threatened airstrikes against government targets in retaliation for its alleged use of weapons of mass destruction.

Moscow, which supports Assad's claim that the attack was perpetrated by the rebels, proposed earlier this week to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control in order to prevent US strikes.

Damascus applauded the initiative and its ambassador to the UN said that, as of Thursday, Syria had become a full member of the Chemical Weapons Convention, Western news agencies reported. The 1993 treaty requires the destruction of all chemical weapons and Syria is one of about half a dozen UN member states that have not signed it.

Many other nations, including the United States, have expressed interest in the Russian proposal, which has helped stave off a debate in the US Congress on proceeding with military strikes. But officials and pundits have voiced doubts about the Assad regime's readiness to hand over its entire chemical weapons arsenal, which a former UN inspector has called one of the world's largest, according to Reuters.

Experts have also pointed to numerous difficulties in monitoring and destroying chemical weapons, especially in a war zone; these include security, expense and time.

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