New York: Efforts to address the crisis in Syria thankfully shifted back to diplomacy at the United Nations on Tuesday, after weeks of saber-rattling by the US. Syria said it would disclose the locations of its stockpiles to the UN, as Syria seized on a Russian plan for Syria's chemical weapons to be put under international control to avert US military action.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria aimed to sign the international convention banning chemical weapons.
"We are ready to honour our commitments under this convention, including providing information about these weapons," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told Interfax news agency on Tuesday.
Russia, France duel over resolution
The Syrian offer came as the country’s closest ally Russia clashed with France over a possible UN Security Council resolution. The US, Britain and France want a strict timetable and consequences of failure spelled out, and the Obama administration has warned it will "not fall for stalling tactics".
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France's proposal would invoke Chapter 7, a clause that allows member states to use all possible means, including military action, to enforce a UN resolution.
Russia's Foreign Ministry announced in a statement that it opposed any resolution that would authorise force. It rejected the French proposal because of the Chapter 7 reference, as well as the suggestion that the resolution would blame the Syrian government for using chemical weapons.
The Russians are more set on writing in Chapter 6 which stipulates peaceful methods of resolving disputes. Russia will propose a presidential statement, which is far less binding, calling on the secretary general and the organization that oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention to carry out the proposal to put Syria’s arsenal under international control.
“The Russian draft confirms that there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic settlement of the conflict” in Syria, a Russian foreign ministry statement said.
Obama wants Congress to delay Syria vote
In many ways the Russian plan has pulled the rug from underneath President Barack Obama, removing his reasoning for military action. His administration had dismissed the UN for days, saying that diplomacy there had failed to rein in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But with governments around the world seizing on the Russian proposal as a serious idea — the White House tone has changed. Obama has agreed to explore the possibility of a Syrian chemical-weapons handover.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters he would only agree to a Syrian chemical weapons hand-off if Obama renounces the use of military force against Syria, even as Obama told senators in a pair of meetings that the military option must remain open.
Putin said, "It is difficult to make any country — Syria or any other country in the world — to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration."
Diplomatic efforts to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons have headed off Obama’s push for Congressional approval of US military airstrikes, sparing him a potentially embarrassing rebuke of his foreign policy agenda. After a meeting with Obama, Democrats said they would hold off on a Syria strike vote amid negotiations. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid postponed a Wednesday test vote on whether to authorise military force.
Obama said he wants to work with lawmakers on new language for a resolution that would maintain the military threat as a way to strengthen diplomatic efforts.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday, that a bipartisan group of eight senators are working on a new Congressional resolution that would authorize an attack on Syria, but only after the introduction of a UN resolution that would set a deadline for the Syrian government to hand over its weapons. If that deadline is not met, the Congressional resolution would authorize the use of military force.
The US media made much of Syria’s first direct acknowledgement that it has chemical weapons. But Russian President Vladimir Putin clarified the need for Syria to stockpile chemical weapons.
"It's well known that Syria has a certain arsenal of chemical weapons and the Syrians always viewed that as an alternative [response] to Israel's nuclear weapons," Putin said on Tuesday.
The Assad government has said it is ready to use all channels to convince the Americans that it wasn't behind the gas attack on 21 August. It blames rebels fighting the government for the gas attack.
War-weary Americans and a rising number of US lawmakers have expressed explicit opposition to using US military force against Syria.