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Russia urges Syria to hand over chemical weapons

AFP

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Syria on Monday to place its stockpile of chemical weapons under international control as a possible means to avert military strikes being considered by the United States and its allies.

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Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on the Syrian government on Monday to put its arsenal of chemical weapons under international control and destroy them in an effort to avert a possible US-led military strike.

Speaking at a press conference, Lavrov said he had already put the proposal to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem during talks in Moscow.

He said the plan could help Syria avoid a US-led military attack, as Congress prepares to vote on whether to support taking action in the country. He also urged Syria to become a full member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Moualem quickly welcomed Lavrov’s initiative, saying that the Syrian government applauded Russia for “trying to prevent an American aggression against our people”.

US warns Syria to give up chemical arms

Lavrov’s comments came just hours after US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should hand over his stockpile of chemical weapons to the international community if he wanted to avoid a military strike.

"Turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting for that," Kerry, who is in Europe to help rally support for action in Syria, told reporters in London.

The US has claimed in recent weeks that it has evidence Syrian government forces used the nerve agent sarin gas in an attack outside the capital Damascus on August 21, which it says killed more than 1,400 people.

While Russia has acted as one of Syria’s closest allies during its more than two-and-a-half-year crisis, blocking at least three UN resolutions to impose sanctions on the country, Lavrov’s comments on Monday appeared to demonstrate a shift in tone.

The White House later said that it would take a look at Russia’s proposal, but expressed its doubts over the idea.

A US official also said that Kerry and Lavrov had spoken on the phone to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons.

Earlier, British Prime Minister David Cameron voiced his support for the proposal, saying that if Syria followed through it would be a “big step forward". However, he also warned against taking it at face value.

“We have to be careful though to make sure this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the table,” Cameron said.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon laid out a similar plan, saying he may ask the UN Security Council to demand Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stock.

“I have already been considering certain proposals that I could make to the Security Council when I present the investigation team’s report,” Ban said, adding that the international community would be obligated to act if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed.

“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,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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