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Syrian President Bashar Assad confirmed Thursday that Syria will put its chemical weapons arsenal under international control, but said the move is in response to a Russian proposal and not the threat of a U.S. military strike.
Assad announced the decision in an interview with Russian state-run news channel Rossiya-24. It was his first public comment since Russia that Syria turns its chemical weapons over to international control, although Moscow has stopped short of demanding their destruction.
"Syria is handing over its chemical weapons under international supervision because of Russia," Assad said in the interview. "The US threats did not influence the decision," he added.
The first report of the interview was carried by RT.com.
Syria will now give the United Nations the documents required for the procedure, Assad added.
His comments followed a similar pledge by the Syrian foreign minister in the wake of the Russian proposal.
The development came as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva where he will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over the Moscow-sponsored proposal that would potentially ward off military strikes.
Kerry and a team of U.S. experts will have at least two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts.
They hope to emerge with an outline of how some 1,000 tons of Syria's chemical weapons stocks and precursor materials as well as potential delivery systems can be safely inventoried and isolated under international control in an active war zone and then destroyed.
The meetings come as Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote a New York Times opinion piece urging President Obama's administration to exercise caution over the situation in Syria.
"The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders," Putin wrote.
Putin said "there is every reason to believe'' that it was Syrian rebels rather than the regime of President Bashar Assad that is responsible for the chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug, 21., a suggestion strongly disputed by Washington, France and a number of other nations.
Elsewhere, in what the Foreign Policy publication is calling an exclusive report, United Nations inspectors have reportedly gathered a large amount of "evidence on the use of nerve agents that points to Syrian President Bashar Assad using chemical weapons against his own people."
Foreign Policy based its report on an unnamed senior Western official.
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated Thursday that the U.N.'s report on the incident may be published as soon as Monday, according to a Reuters report.
Kim Hjelmgaard and Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY