Syria has accepted a proposal to place its chemical weapons under international control for dismantling, the Syrian foreign minister said Tuesday, as France proposed a U.N. resolution that would enforce the plan militarily if the government failed to follow through.
The moves are part of flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at averting Western military action. Speaking in Moscow, Walid al-Moallem said his government quickly agreed to the plan to “thwart U.S. aggression” — an allusion to possible U.S.-led strikes in retaliation for a deadly Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that Western powers blame on the Syrian regime. Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied the claim.
Al-Moallem’s brief statement sounds more definitive than his previous remarks, which stopped short of promising to comply with a Russian-led call for the Assad regime to turn over its complete stockpile of chemical weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow is now working with Damascus to draw up a detailed plan of action. France, meanwhile, plans to formally put forward a resolution codifying the proposal to the United Nations later today, at which point we’ll see if the general international consensus that is emerging can survive what is likely to be another round of U.N. debate between Syria’s longtime patron (Russia) and Bashar al-Assad’s critics.
The Obama administration is no doubt wary of Assad’s intentions—Kerry even made it clear yesterday during his ad-libbed remarks that set the current plan in motion that he didn’t believe the Syrian president could be trusted—but at this point it appears likely that the White House will give the plan a shot as President Obama faces continued skepticism at home over his original call for limited military strikes aimed at punishing, but not toppling, Assad.
“I think you have to take it with a grain of salt, initially,” Obama said yesterday in an interview with NBC, one of a half dozen he gave to U.S. networks ahead of Tuesday’s primetime speech. “We’re going to make sure that we see how serious these proposals are.”
This post was updated with additional information.