BEIRUT: Russia called for Syrian regime to place all its chemical weapon stockpiles under international control Monday, in an apparent eleventh-hour deal to try and avert a U.S. led strike on its key ally.
After talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Syria to "place the chemical weapons under international control and then have them destroyed".
Muallem said Syria welcomes Russia's proposal, praising the Kremlin for seeking to "prevent American aggression".
Moualem stopped short of saying explicitly that President Bashar al-Assad's government accepted it.
"I state that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership's concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and also motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression against our people," he said.
Lavrov said such a plan would help "avoid military strikes" that are being considered by the United States and its allies.
"If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus," Lavrov said.
Following Lavrov's proposal, UN leader Ban Ki-moon called for the creation of UN supervised zones in Syria where the country's chemical weapons can be destroyed.
The U.S. had appeared on the brink of striking Syria last week after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said they had near-certain proof the regime had used chemical weapons on August 21, killing 1,400 people.
Lavrov’s comments came several hours after Kerry said a military strike could be prevented if Bashar Assad’s regime turned in “every single bit” of his chemical arms to the international community, although he added he did not expect the Syrian president to do that.
However, after a flurry of interest in Kerry’s proposal, the State Department hurriedly issued a statement clarifying that his comments were intended rhetorically.
"Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used," a State Department spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
During his speech in London, Kerry also said that control of chemical weapons was limited to Assad, his brother and one other general.
"The chemical weapons in Syria ... are controlled in very tight manner by the Assad regime. It is Bashar al-Assad, Maher al-Assad, his brother, and a general who are the three people who have control over the movement and use of chemical weapons," he said.
However, he also appeared to tone down his rhetoric, calling for a negotiated solution to the conflict.
"Let me be clear, the United States, President Obama, myself, others are in full agreement that the end of the conflict in Syria requires a political solution. There is no military solution, we have no illusions about that," he said, appearing to offer a deal to President Bashar Assad to stave off military strikes.
His language was mirrored by conciliatory remarks by Lavrov and Muallem earlier in the day, both of whom called for a political, rather than military, resolution.
Lavrov said that Russia will continue to promote a political settlement to the conflict, arguing that a U.S. attack on Syria would be the death knell for peace efforts.
“We wouldn't like to proceed from a negative scenario and would primarily take efforts to prevent a military intervention," he said.
Muallem added that "the diplomatic channels to resolve this issue have not been exhausted." - With agencies