MOSCOW -- Syrian President Bashar Assad has outlined the steps his government intends to take to place its chemical weapons under international control – provided, he said, the United States stops threatening to attack Syria.
“It’s a two-way process," Assad told Russia’s state-run Rossiya-24 television in an interview broadcast Thursday.
Excerpts of Assad’s comments were published by Russian news agencies hours before U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry arrived in Geneva for hastily arranged talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a possible deal to avert U.S. military reprisals for a chemical attack last month against rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.
The U.S. and other Western governments remain deeply skeptical of the Russian-backed proposal for the surrender of Syria’s chemical arsenal, which they fear could be a delaying tactic. But Assad’s government, which until recently denied possessing chemical weapons, has welcomed the initiative.
Within a few days, Assad said, Syria is prepared to submit to the United Nations the documents required to sign the international Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the development, production, stockpiling and use of such arms.
“The agreement will come into force a month after the signing, and Syria will begin to hand over to international organizations the data on its stockpiles of chemical weapons,” Assad said. “These are established, standard processes, which we will abide by.”
Assad emphasized, however, that Syria would not act “unilaterally.”
“When we see that the United States really wants stability in our region, stops threatening us with attack plans and stops supplying weapons to terrorists, then we will consider it possible to go ahead and complete the necessary processes, so that they can be valid and acceptable for Syria,” Assad said.
The White House announced in June that the Obama administration would begin providing military assistance to its allies among the rebels in light of its conclusion that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in the 2-year-old civil war. But officials said they would vet potential recipients, to avoid U.S. arms falling into the hands of the Islamist militants who make up a growing part of the rebel forces.
Syrian government officials generally don’t distinguish between the different opposition camps, saying all are “terrorists.”
Igor Korotchenko, editor of the Russian journal National Defense, said Assad had little choice but to accept a plan to surrender Syria's chemical weapons.
"He knows it is the only way now for Syria to avoid a U.S. strike,” Korotchenko said. But, he added, Assad is "bidding for time, trying to get some tactical advantages."
Assad's government has repeatedly denied using its chemical arsenal, calling the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus a provocation by rebels intended to persuade the international community to intervene. Assad reiterated the charge in Thursday’s interview, saying the rebels could have obtained such weapons from allies such as Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia.
He underscored the importance of Russia’s role in seeking a negotiated solution, saying, “We don't trust the United States and we have no communication with it.
“Russia is the only state which can fulfill this role now,” Assad said.