Discussions underway on Syrian chemical weapons plan

Behind the scenes, the US and other UN Security Council nations are considering Russia's proposal on Syria

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem leave after a press conference on Sept. 9, 2013, following a meeting in Moscow.
Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

A day after President Barack Obama told the nation that Washington was considering a Russian diplomatic proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, tense behind-the-scenes negotiations -- some on a proposed United Nations resolution -- were underway among U.N. Security Council members.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow had "already handed over to the U.S. the plan for fulfilling the initiative for international control of Syrian chemical weapons," the Inter-fax news agency reported Wednesday. Lavrov gave no details of the plan, but said he would discuss it with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during their meeting in Geneva on Thursday.

But while the Russian plan for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons appeared to ease the crisis over possible U.S.-led strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a new potential for an impasse came quickly: Moscow rejected U.S. and French demands for a binding U.N. resolution with "very severe consequences" for Syrian non-compliance.

In Damascus, a senior government official said the Russian proposal is still a "broad headline" that needs to be developed. He said Syria was ready to sign the chemical weapons convention, but not if such a move is forced by foreign powers.

Asked about the difficulties of implementing the transfer and relinquishment of Syria's chemical weapons against the backdrop of a raging civil war in the country, Syrian Cabinet Minister Ali Haidar told The Associated Press: "There was no talk about moving and transferring control. There was talk about putting these weapons under international supervision."

Meanwhile, a French official close to President Francois Hollande said Russia objected not only to making the resolution militarily enforceable, but also to blaming the alleged Aug. 21 chemical attack on the Syrian government and demanding that those responsible be taken before an international criminal court.

Wary of falling into what the French foreign minister called "a trap," Paris and Washington are pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution to verify Syria's disarmament. Russia, a close ally of Assad and his government’s chief patron on the international stage, dismissed France's proposal on Tuesday.

The flurry of diplomatic activity comes a day after Obama told Americans Tuesday night that he has asked lawmakers to delay a vote on military strikes against Syria, which Obama has advocated to punish Assad’s government for its alleged use of chemical weapons.

However, Obama also said he has "ordered our military to maintain their current posture" in an attempt to keep pressure on Assad, whose forces are accused of using chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack near Damascus that reportedly killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children. Assad denies the accusations.

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Obama also used his speech from the East Room of the White House Tuesday night to make a case for why acting in Syria was in the interest of U.S. national security.

The president said that inaction could embolden Assad to potentially use chemical weapons again, and he said that "other tyrants will have no reason to think twice" about acquiring and using poison gas.

"Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians," Obama said.

The president also said that a spillover from fighting in Syria could threaten U.S. allies including Jordan, Turkey and Israel. He said that failing to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons would embolden Iran with regard to its nuclear program, which the U.S. opposes.

A report released Wednesday by U.N. Human Rights Council investigators highlighted the complexity of the conflict.

The investigators -- who were not allowed to enter Syria -- wrote in the report that Syrian rebels and foreign fighters have committed war crimes, including executions, hostage-taking and shelling civilian areas.

Obama said that it was "too early to tell" if the Russian proposal could succeed, but that he was open to giving it a chance. 

"I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path," Obama said. He did not specify a time period.

Many Congressional Republicans and some Democrats have said they would not support military strikes. And while some 33 other nations have signed a statement calling for a strong international action, Obama has struggled to find allies willing to commit military power to a response.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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