As the US and Russia got ready to start discussing Syria’s chemical weapons in Geneva, Bashar al-Assad announced Thursday he was willing to give them up.
Assad told a Russian news outlet he will hand over his chemical weapons to international monitors as required under Moscow’s plan, and not because of US threat of strikes.
There was no response to this from either the US or Russia, whose delegations -- led by John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov -- start discussing the Syrian crisis later in the day.
The Moscow plan requires Syria to join the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, declare its storage sites, and allow for their inspection and, eventually, destruction.
Though not sure of Russian and Syrian intentions just yet, the US, as declared by President Barack Obama in a national address on Tuesday, was willing to give them a chance.
“In this stage of the process, our goal here is to test the seriousness of this proposal, to talk about the specifics of how this would get done,” said state department’s Jen Psaki.
The west -- the US, the UK and France -- has been keen to include the use of force as part of any resolution of the crisis to make sure Assad indeed gives up his stockpile, and all of it.
Russia, and China, the remaining two members of the UN Security Council, are opposed to it, even to the threat of use of force, which led to early differences.
“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States,” Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote in an op-ed.
“No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.”
President Obama has sought congressional authorization, now delayed at his request, for limited strikes against Syria to punish it for gassing to death over 1,400 people on August 21.
The oped, carried by The New York Times, is a stinging critique of the US not only on Syria but its tendency to act unilaterally in the name of American exceptionalism.
“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” Putin wrote, adding, “God created us equal.”
(With agency inputs)