US-Russia talks on Syrian chemical weapons continue
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (left) met on Friday with the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, for talks on how to dispose of Syria's chemical weapons to avoid a US military strike.
Talks on the Syrian conflict continued in Geneva on Friday as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, met to discuss how to remove the threat posed by Syria's chemical weapons.
Speaking at a press briefing following the meeting, Kerry said he and Lavrov would meet again in New York around the time of the UN General Assembly late this month to set a date for a long-delayed Syrian peace conference.
As the talks opened in Geneva on Thursday, Lavrov said he believed a "solution" to the issue would make it unnecessary for there to be any strikes targeting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We proceed from the fact that the solution of this problem will make unnecessary any strike on the Syrian Arab Republic,” Lavrov said during a joint appearance with Kerry.
But Kerry made clear that a US military intervention in Syria may still be necessary if the latest round of diplomacy does not result in a deal.
He said that US President Barack Obama “has made clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad’s capacity to deliver these weapons”.
“Only the credible threat of force – and the intervention of President [Vladimir] Putin and Russia based on that – has brought the Assad regime to acknowledge for the first time that it even has chemical weapons and an arsenal, and that [it] is now prepared to relinquish it,” Kerry said.
Assad said in a Russian state television interview broadcast on Thursday that he would not finalise plans to abandon his chemical arsenal unless the US stopped threatening to attack.
The Geneva talks, expected to continue through Saturday, are part of a new diplomatic push that prompted Obama to postpone plans for air strikes on Syrian targets in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack on civilians outside Damascus.
The United States, France and Britain have said the Assad regime carried out the attack with sarin nerve gas, killing more than 1,400 people. Assad and close ally Russia have blamed anti-regime rebel forces for the attack.
The United Nations said on Thursday it had received a formal application from Syria to join the global anti-chemical-weapons treaty, in keeping with Assad’s obligations as part of a deal to avoid US air strikes. Syria was one of only seven nations, along with Egypt, Israel and North Korea, that have not signed the 1997 international convention.
The United States has warned Syria against using any stalling tactics to avoid US military strikes.
Kerry said that any final agreement in Geneva must be comprehensive, credible and timely, and that “there ought to be consequences if it doesn’t take place”. But he also said that a peaceful resolution was “clearly preferable” to military action.
A version of the Russian plan for disposing of Syria’s chemical weapons reported by Russia’s “Kommersant” newspaper on Thursday described four stages of Syrian disarmament: joining the global chemical weapons ban, revealing the country’s chemical production and storage sites, permitting visits by international inspectors and allowing the stockpiles to be destroyed.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)