The chain of events began early in London early Monday when Secretary Kerry mentioned to reporters that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid the possibility of US strikes by surrendering “every single bit” of his chemical weapon arsenal to the international community within days. Kerry added that he did not believe Assad would do that or, indeed, that such a turnover was even possible.
Hours later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov picked up the idea, and said publicly that Russia would push its ally Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, and that Moscow would help the destruction effort.
Things moved quickly from there. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid-al-Moallem “embraced the proposal,” according to an Associated Press report. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he thought it was a good idea.
“I’m 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,” said the UN chief.
US officials remain suspicious that Mr. Assad may be stalling for time. The Syrian government has not previously admitted to the possession of large chemical weapons stocks. Locating, securing, and moving such dangerous weapons in the midst of a country fighting a ferocious civil war would be a very difficult task. If Assad wanted to hide some chemical stocks, he probably could. International weapons inspections are far from foolproof.
“Everything that Assad has done over the past two years and before has been to refuse to put his chemical weapons under international control. He hasn’t declared them. We’ve repeatedly called on him to do so. And he’s ignored prohibitions against them,” said State Department spokesman Harf.