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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US, Russia Closer to Agreement on Syrian Chemical Weapons

by Scott Stearns September 13, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet for a third day Saturday in Switzerland, where they are said to be making progress on a plan to dismantle Syria's chemical-weapons program.

U.S. and Russian officials are hopeful that an agreement ending the chemical-weapons crisis can revive efforts toward a political transition to end Syria's civil war.

A senior Obama administration official says U.S. and Russian negotiators are coming closer to agreement on the scope of Syrian chemical-weapons stockpiles. That is central to identifying and containing those munitions, since Russian estimates are lower than the roughly 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons that the United States believes are in Syria.

Secretary Kerry says talks here have been 'constructive' and have included some of the 'homework' that he and Foreign Minister Lavrov need to do to get Syria's warring factions to a conference on a transitional government.

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

Lavrov says progress on Syrian chemical weapons could help open the way for a political transition.

'The Syrian parties must reach mutual consent on the transitional governing organ which would command full executive authority. And the communique also says that all groups of Syrian society must be represented,' said Lavrov.

Kerry and Lavrov met with the U.N. and Arab League special representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is trying to organize this conference known as Geneva II.

'It is extremely important in itself and for itself, but it is also extremely important for us working with you on trying to bring together the Geneva Two conference successfully,' said Brahimi.

That conference has been repeatedly delayed by confusion within the Syrian opposition and by disagreement over what other nations might attend. Russia believes Iran should take part in those talks. Washington opposes Tehran's participation because its forces are advising and supplying Assad troops.

It is not clear how these talks on chemical weapons might resolve those outstanding differences over a Geneva Two conference, but Kerry says he is hopeful this initiative can 'bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has formally applied to join an international convention banning the use of chemical weapons, but says that can not be 'brought to the final stage' while his country is under the threat of a U.S. missile strike.

President Barack Obama says he retains the right to use force to degrade Syria's ability to use chemical weapons, following an August attack outside Damascus that Washington blames on Assad forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says there is 'every reason' to believe that opposition fighters were responsible for that chemical attack in a bid to provoke outside military action. He says a U.S. military strike on Syria 'would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism.'

Following his third day of talks here in Geneva with Lavrov, Kerry will travel to Jerusalem Sunday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Syria and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Kerry will then travel to Paris on Monday for meetings with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Secretary William Hague as well as with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

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