U.S., Russia Commend Assad for Complying With Agreement
By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan & Ilya Arkhipov – Oct 7, 2013 7:38 AM ET
Secretary of State John Kerry commended Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for starting to destroy his chemical weapons, and said the U.S. and Russia are pushing to convene a peace conference next month to end to the war.
It’s “a credit to the Assad regime for complying rapidly as they are supposed to,” Kerry said after meeting his Russian counterpart on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia. “It’s a good beginning, and we should welcome a new beginning.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said, “It’s a good beginning, and we should welcome a new beginning.” Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
Following condemnation by the U.S. and its European allies of an Aug. 21 poison-gas attack near Damascus that President Barack Obama said killed more than 1,400 people, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brokered a deal last month for Syria to account for and destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. Russia is a longtime backer of Assad’s government.
Assad’s government “is cooperating blamelessly with international inspectors,” meeting its commitments to the chemical weapons deal, and it is ready for mid-November peace talks with the opposition, Lavrov told reporters at the joint news conference.
“We don’t need to do anything to convince Damascus to send its delegation” to a peace conference, Lavrov said, saying the regime was ready “months ago.” It is the Syrian opposition that needs to be persuaded to attend without preconditions, he said.
Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) — Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem speaks about the situation in Syria and scolds the U.S. and its allies for their aggressive policies. Muallem speaks before the United Nations General Assembly. (Video courtesy of United Nations. Source: Bloomberg)
While the United Nations alone can set a date for long-awaited peace talks in Geneva, there have been discussions about “the second week of November or so, and we will urge a date to be set as soon as possible,” Kerry said.
Lavrov said today that the U.S. and Russia have an understanding that the future conference must include “all parties” inside Syria and “important international players,” a possible reference to neighboring Iran, which supports Syria with money and weapons. U.S. officials have said they oppose Iran’s participation unless it part of the solution, rather than stoking the conflict.
Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a watchdog group based in The Hague, verified yesterday that Syria destroyed missile warheads and production equipment, according to an official from the joint OPCW-UN mission who asked not to be identified.
In a further e-mailed comment today, the official said the disarmament team expected continued cooperation as it worked toward achieving further progress.
The developments came a week after the UN Security Council approved an agreement demanding the elimination of Syria’s non-conventional arms following the August attack. The arsenal is estimated to be the third-largest in the world.
Pleased With Pace
“We’re very pleased with the pace of what has happened with respect to chemical weapons,” Kerry said.
In an interview with Der Spiegel last week, Assad said the international community should not worry about the security of chemical weapons stores because they’re under government control and “the stored materials haven’t been activated.”
“It is not as bad as it is portrayed by the media and believed in the West. There is no need for any undue concern,” Assad said in the interview. He also said that a negotiated solution with “militants” won’t be possible.
An opposition fighter observes the movement of regime forces as he holds a position in the Sheikh al-Said neighbourhood of Syria’s northern city of Aleppo on October 3, 2013. Photographer: Karam al-Masri/AFP via Getty Images
The Security Council approved an agreement on Sept. 27 to eliminate all of Syria’s chemical weapons, though the resolution didn’t attach consequences for failure to comply or assign blame for the attack. The U.S., U.K. and French governments said they had evidence linking Assad’s regime to the gas attack. Assad and Russia have blamed the rebels for the attack.
Syria’s civil war has claimed the lives of more than 115,000 people, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group. The fighting pits the mainly Muslim Sunni opposition against backers of Assad, whose Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.