WASHINGTON, September 9 (RIA Novosti) – The United States will take a “hard look” at Russia’s offer to press Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to the international community, but possible military strikes against Syria will not be taken off the table because the threat of US action brought about the Russian proposal in the first place, US officials said Monday.
“We will have to take a hard look at the Russian statement… But I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is only happening in the context of a threat of US military action” against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which the United States says was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack last month that killed hundreds of civilians, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters at a briefing.
At a White House briefing on Monday, spokesman Jay Carney made a similar assertion, saying: “The only reason we are seeing this proposal is because of the threat of US military action in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Heretofore the Russians have not been very helpful when it comes to holding Assad accountable for either his use of chemical weapons or his wholesale slaughter of his own people.”
The two were speaking hours after US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in London that Assad could stop a US attack by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”
Kerry’s statement – which Harf said was rhetorical and hypothetical – prompted an almost immediate response from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said Moscow would begin working with Damascus right away to convince the Assad regime to place its chemical weapons under international control, if such a move meant US military strikes on Syria would be averted.
Syria also welcomed the Russian initiative, as did UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who said he was considering putting a similar proposal to the United Nations Security Council.
Amid the fast-moving initiatives to stave off a US strike on Syria, the Obama administration will continue to try to win approval from Congress for military strikes on Syrian regime targets, US officials said.
“It’s clear that this proposal comes in the context of the threat of US action and the pressure that the president is exerting,” Deputy National Security adviser Tony Blinken said at the White House briefing.
“It’s even more important now that Congress votes to authorize the president to use military action against Syrian regime targets, because if we don’t give authorization to do so and don’t respond, Assad will see that as a green light to continue to use chemical weapons,” Harf said.
Harf also said the United States was skeptical that the Assad regime would follow through and actually surrender its chemical weapons arsenal if an agreement were reached, and said Washington is concerned that the proposal – which the State Department said originated in Moscow, and not from Kerry’s statement in London -- could be used as a “stalling tactic.”
“We have some serious skepticism… The Syrian regime is only talking about doing it now, in the context of potential military action… and what Assad has done over the past two years and before is the opposite – he’s refused to put his chemical weapons under international control, he hasn’t declared them and he has ignored prohibitions against them,” the State Department spokeswoman said.
“We don’t want this to be another stalling tactic by the Russians, and by the Syrians through the Russians,” she added.
Kerry cited “guaranteed Russian obstructionism” in the UN Security Council when he announced last month that Washington would act against the Assad regime without waiting for a UN resolution.
“The Russians for months and years have stood up for the Syrian regime at the UN and in the international community. So we’ll look at what they’ve put on the table but determine what the best course of action is going forward after taking a look at it,” Harf said.