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Syria accepts Russia deal on chemical weapons; France to seek UN resolution

9:48 AM, Sep 10, 2013   |    comments
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Syria confirmed it would accept a Russian-brokered proposal to place its chemical weapons under international control Tuesday, just hours after France announced it would seek a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking a similar plan.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told Russia's lower parliament that Damascus had agreed to the plan in order to "remove the grounds for American aggression," according to a report by the Interfax state news agency.

His statement sounded more definitive than remarks Monday, when the Syrian foreign minister said that Damascus welcomed Russia's initiative.

Sergey Lavrov, al-Moualem's Russian counterpart, said Tuesday that Moscow was working with Syria to prepare a detailed plan of action, according to The Associated Press.

The comments added to the international momentum behind the proposal, which has already been endorsed by Iran and China and cautiously welcomed by Britain, France and Germany.

Obama said Monday that Moscow's proposal - that President Bashar Assad hands over chemical weapons for destruction - offered a path that averted U.S. military strikes.

A U.N. resolution could allow the United States and its allies to accept a diplomatic way out of the crisis, even as President Barack Obama prepared to make his case for military strikes on Syria to the American people.

In a further development, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin said the Russian president had discussed the weapons handover plan with Obama at last week's G-20 summit.

That shed a different light on Secretary of State John Kerry's mention of the plan at a news conference in London on Monday. That had previously been characterized by spokesman Jen Psaki as an off-the-cuff "rhetorical argument."

In an interview with NBC News' Savannah Guthrie, Obama described Russia's plan as "potentially positive" but said that "we have to be skeptical," reflecting concern that it could be a distraction tactic. The president said he had not decided whether he will order a strike on Syria without congressional support - adding that he's not certain he'll win a vote on a resolution to authorize military action.

The president will travel to Capitol Hill Tuesday to meet with the Senate Democratic Caucus and Senate Republican Conference before delivering an address to the nation from the East Room of the White House at 9:01 p.m. ET.

His case for limited airstrikes targeting Assad's regime was boosted early Tuesday when a Human Rights Watch report blamed Syrian government forces for the Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of people.

The U.S.-based rights group said it had reached its conclusion after analyzing witness accounts, remnants of the weapons used and medical records of victims.

HRW said it did not believe the attack could have been carried out by rebels or other "terrorists" as a smokescreen, as suggested by Assad. "Human Rights Watch and arms experts monitoring the use of weaponry in Syria have not documented Syrian opposition forces to be in possession of the 140mm and 330mm rockets used in the attack, or their associated launchers," the report added.

Russia's diplomatic solution appeared to be gathering momentum internationally -- as an attractive option for many U.S. allies who agree with the White House stance against chemical weapons but who are reluctant to be drawn into another Middle East military conflict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explained his proposal during a pre-planned 14-minute phone call to John Kerry as the U.S. secretary of state flew from London to Washington Monday.

U.S. officials said Kerry expressed concern that it would be hard to verify whether Syria had complied with any such plan, or to know if the regime had still kept some of its chemical weapons stockpiles.

Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) issued a joint statement Monday urging Congress to press ahead with support for airstrikes regardless of the Russia initiative, saying that "only the threat of military action against the Assad regime's chemical weapons capabilities is what could create a possibility for Assad to give up control of those weapons."

Adding to international concern, Turkey's state-run Anadolu agency reported that Syrian jets bombed the border town of Tel Abyad Monday, prompting yet more Syrians to seek refuge in Turkey. Thousands had already flooded across the border, leaving authorities struggling to cope.

NBC News

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