PARIS -- France said Tuesday it would initiate a resolution in the United Nations Security Council demanding that Syria reveal the extent of its chemical weapons program and turn its arsenal over to international inspectors to be neutralized.
The announcement by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius came a day after Russia floated a proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international supervision, a new idea that could delay or forestall a U.S.-led military strike.
President Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech to the nation Tuesday evening regarding Syria. "We will pursue this diplomatic track," Obama said in an interview with Fox News on Monday. "I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a nonmilitary way."
Fabius said he greeted the Russian gambit “with interest and caution.”
“With interest, because it’s the first time there’s been this opening. With caution, because Russia has changed its position, and its proposal is difficult to apply,” Fabius told Europe 1 radio Tuesday morning. “We know that Syria has more than a thousand tons of chemical weapons that are difficult to localize and destroy.”
Fabius told reporters later that France would introduce a militarily enforceable resolution at the U.N. calling on Damascus to give up its chemical arms.
The new flurry of diplomatic activity came after an off-the-cuff remark Monday by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry in London. Kerry said Syrian President Bashar Assad could avoid a Western attack if he gave up “every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” a move Kerry himself immediately dismissed as a fanciful notion.
But Russia took what appeared to be a rhetorical comment and has turned it into a diplomatic initiative, one that has garnered interest from President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and other countries.
Along with the U.S and Britain, France has been the most outspoken supporter of a harsh military reprisal against the Assad regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons in a deadly Aug. 21 assault on a rebel-held Damascus suburb, which the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people. Although Britain has ruled out actively participating in a military strike, Cameron continues to urge a forceful response.
Fabius said he was certain that Moscow’s new initiative was in part a result of the tough line advocated by Paris.
“The attitude we have had from the beginning, which is considered toughness, is the attitude that has moved things forward,” Fabius said.
He told Le Point news magazine that the Russian proposal would be acceptable only if Assad “complies without delay in putting all his chemical weapons under international control and allowing them to be destroyed.”
Fabius has also called on the International Criminal Court at the Hague to investigate the Aug. 21 attack.