Averting a U.S. Strike? |

Russia Working on 'Concrete' Plan for Control of Syrian Chemical Weapons

Syrian foreign minister says the plan will be presented to other nations soon; Israeli officials skeptical, say Syria is buying time.

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Diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis over Syria continued on Tuesday, as Russia said it is working to formulate a plan for putting the latter country's chemical weapons under control and France said it would push for a UN resolution on Syria's arsenal.

Russia is working on an "effective, concrete" plan for putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control and is discussing the details with Damascus, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.

Lavrov told reporters the plan would be presented to other nations soon and that the proposal, which he announced on Monday, was not entirely Russian but grew out of contacts with the United States.

Syria on Monday welcomed Moscow's proposal to relinquish control over its chemical weapons, a move Lavrov said could avert U.S. military action.

Lavrov met with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Moallem, on Monday, saying they had agreed that UN chemical weapons experts should complete their probe of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria and present their findings to the UN Security Council.

Moallem said his government was ready to host the UN team, and insisted that Syria was ready to use all channels to convince the Americans that it was not behind the attack.

He added that Syria was ready for "full cooperation with Russia to remove any pretext for aggression."

Lavrov said that Russia would continue to promote a peaceful settlement and may try to convene a gathering of all Syrian opposition figures to join in negotiations. He added that a U.S. attack on Syria would deal a fatal blow to peace efforts.

Lavrov wouldn't say how Russia could respond to a possible U.S. attack on Syria, saying that "we wouldn't like to proceed from a negative scenario and would primarily take efforts to prevent a military intervention."

Meanwhile, senior Israeli politicians have voiced skepticism about Russia's proposal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to international control.

Avigdor Lieberman, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and DefenseCommittee, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that Syria could use the proposal to "buy time," adding that Syrian President Bashar Assad "is winning time and lots of it."

Lieberman says Syria is likely stalling, as Iran allegedly did during earlynuclear negotiations when faced with an offer to transfer enriched uranium stockpiles abroad.

Lieberman, an ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says Israel doesn'thave details of the Russian offer and that the logistics of a weapons transfer are unclear.

President Shimon Peres on Monday also warned that negotiations over a weapons transfer would be "tough" and that Syria is "not trustworthy."

France on Tuesday also sought to seize the diplomatic initiative on Syria, saying it would push for a UN resolution setting out terms for the destruction of its chemical weapons and warning of "serious consequences" if it resisted.

The announcement by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius came a day after a surprise proposal by Russia that its Syrian ally hand over its chemical weapons stocks in a move that could avert possible U.S. military strikes.

Fabius said the proposed resolution would be under Chapter 7 of the UN's charter covering the possible use of military action to restore peace and would require Damascus to reveal "without delay" the extent of its chemical program and place it under international control for dismantlement.

"The Russian foreign minister made an offer ... This cannot be used as a maneuver to divert us," said Fabius, whose country has been a strong backer of action including possible strikes against Assad's forces.

"That is why we have decided to take this initiative. France will put forward a resolution at the UN Security Council in this sense and the procedure starts today."

"All options remain on the table," he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, with his Syrian counterpart Walid Moallem.Credit: AFP

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