WASHINGTON, (UPI) — Syria’s agreement to put its chemical weapons under international control is a result of U.S. pressure, a White House spokesman said Tuesday.
Speaking on MSNBC, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Bashar Assad’s acceptance of a proposal by Russia was the result of “the credible threat of U.S. military action.”
Carney said the proposal from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was “a potentially positive development” but that President Obama will continue with his plan to address the American people Tuesday night to press his case “that the international community, in this case led by the United States, cannot stand by and allow that international prohibition against the use of chemical weapons to unravel before our eyes.”
Assad’s agreement to the Russian proposal, Carney said, “is the byproduct of the push for action that the president has led.”
Carney added that, “Before this morning, the Syrian government had never even acknowledged they possessed chemical weapons. Now they have.”
Because Obama does not see “an imminent threat” to national security, the president will continue to make his case for Congress to “take action, vote and authorize the strike.”
Noting the apparent public reluctance to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East, Carney said, “We need to get out there and make the case and make clear why this is important.”
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told the speaker of the Russian Parliament that Lavrov’s terms would “remove the grounds for American aggression,” The Independent of London reported.
“We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday [Monday], and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to the Russian initiative,” Muallem said.
Syria’s agreement came as France announced it would submit to the U.N. Security Council a “binding resolution with a short time frame” that would force Syrian President Bashar Assad to cede stockpile to international control, destroy the stockpile and sign on to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Obama has asked Congress for authority to conduct a limited military strike after evidence indicated Assad’s troops gassed citizens during an attack on Damascus suburbs Aug. 21.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Syrian government must be forced to reveal the full extent of its chemical program immediately, and that France would proffer a proposal to the U.N. Security Council Tuesday.
“The Russian foreign minister made an offer,” Fabius said, “[but] this cannot be used as a maneuver to divert us.”
“That is why we have decided to take this initiative. France will put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council in this sense and the procedure starts today,” he said.
Fabius stressed that all options “remain on the table,” including a targeted missile strike.
Earlier Tuesday, Russia said it was working with Assad’s government to draw up an “effective, clear, concrete” plan for handing over Syria’s chemical weapons.
Lavrov had told reporters the proposals would be circulated to other nations soon, stressing the fluidity of the situation and noting that conversations with Syrian officials were “being conducted literally at this minute.”
“We hope to present this plan in the very near future, and will be prepared to finalize it and work it out with the involvement of the U.N. secretary general, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and members of the Security Council,” Lavrov said.
The Lavrov plan won support from China, who, along with Russia, has resisted anti-Syria resolutions brought to the Security Council.
In Paris, Fabius said he expected a “nearly immediate” commitment from the Syria authorities and that Russia had information about Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
The French proposal will call for Syria to allow inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to oversee the destruction of chemical weapons and will require that Syria become a member of the organization.
If there are any deviations, “extremely serious consequences” would be on the table, he said.
“It is upon the acceptance of these precise conditions that we will judge the credibility of the intentions that were expressed yesterday,” Fabius said.
Lavrov’s proposal came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry first raised the idea in an off-handed way that made clear the idea of Assad giving up Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was unlikely.
Lavrov said he discussed the proposal with U.S. officials before announcing it at a briefing Monday, The New York Times reported.
Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the idea privately on the sidelines of last week’s Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, and Lavrov discussed it with Kerry, the Times said.
On Monday, Obama tentatively embraced the Russian proposal while in London, Prime Minister David Cameron offered a qualified nod.
“My intention throughout this process has been to ensure that the blatant use of chemical weapons that we saw doesn’t happen again,” Obama said in an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service, one of six interviews he had with the broadcast and cable networks. “If in fact there’s a way to accomplish that diplomatically, that is overwhelmingly my preference.”
“If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use under international supervision, clearly that would be a big step forward and should be encouraged,” Cameron told Parliament. “I think we have to be careful, though, to make sure this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the table, but if it is a genuine offer, then it should be genuinely looked at.”
In Washington, the potential diplomatic solution also garnered support in the U.S. Congress, where the Senate delayed a vote scheduled for Wednesday on Obama’s authorization request to use limited military force against Syria over the chemical weapons attack.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the proposal should be given a chance, and said it came about only because Assad felt the threat of military force.
They said Congress should still consider Obama’s request for legislative backing of a military strike.
The House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on the measure next week.
The flurry of diplomatic back-and-forth came as the Human Rights Watch supported the conclusions that only Assad’s government could have launched the attack that killed more than 1,400 people, hundreds of them children, in the Aug. 21 attack, the Times said.
Assad has denied that his forces used chemical agents in the Damascus suburbs, but Human Rights Watch said evidence on the type of rockets and launchers involved in the strike “suggests that these are weapon systems known and documented to be only in the possession of, and used by, Syrian government armed forces.”
Meanwhile, Russian lawyer Alexander Zorin asked the Russian Investigative Committee to start a criminal case against Obama under the Russian Criminal Code, charging that Obama was planning and preparing for “the instigation of an armed conflict,” the Russian legal information agency RAPSI reported.
The penalty includes a prison term of up to 20 years.
The attorney said he believed believes there is no recourse under international law to sue Obama after the United States withdrew its intent to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 2002.
“Under the guise of protecting its servicemen, the U.S. have completely withdrawn from the Rome Statute, calling it a threat to the U.S. national interests and sovereignty,” Zorin added.