Syria said it would sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, following Russia’s proposal that it hands over its chemical weapons to international supervisors. Damascus pledged to open its storage sites and provide full disclosure of its stocks immediately.
“We fully support Russia’s initiative concerning chemical weapons in Syria, and we are ready to cooperate. As a part of the plan, we intend to join the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in an interview with Lebanon-based Al-Maydeen TV.
“We are ready to fulfill our obligations in compliance with this treaty, including through the provision of information about our chemical weapons. We will open our storage sites, and cease production. We are ready to open these facilities to Russia, other countries and the United Nations.”
He added: “We intend to give up chemical weapons altogether.”
The statement comes less than 24 hours after Moscow called for Damascus to hand over control over its chemical arsenal to the international community to avert a retaliatory strike by the US. Washington claims that the Assad government used chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb on August 21, killing more than 1,400 people. President Assad denies the allegation.
On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that direct action could be avoided if the Syrian government handed over “every single bit" of his chemical weapon stock within a week. Shortly afterward, Russia made a formal proposal to Damascus.
Vladimir Putin has said that he first discussed the idea with Barack Obama during the G20 meeting of the world’s biggest economies last week. In a series of TV interviews of US networks, Obama welcomed the proposal as a “possible breakthrough”, but US officials say it must not be used as a “stalling tactic” by the Assad regime.
As part of that plan, Syria would have to become a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Damascus had already agreed to Moscow's proposal in principle earlier on Tuesday.
Alongside North Korea, Egypt and Israel, Syria is one of only seven countries not to have joined the treaty, adopted in 1993.
Since then more than half of the world’s chemical weapons stockpile has been destroyed under the terms of the treaty by over 180 countries.
The UN Security Council will convene to discuss a statement based on Moscow’s plan in the near future.
While all members of the Council are likely to support the chemical weapons handover, there are likely to be crucial disagreements on whether the final document will assign blame for the August 21 chemical incident on Assad’s forces, and whether the door will still be open to future military intervention against his government.
Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov have also scheduled a meeting to discuss the chemical disarmament.