WASHINGTON — The United States will take a “hard look” at a Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles under international control, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said on Monday.
Harf also said that Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement on Monday calling for the Assad regime to hand over its chemical weapons was “hypothetical.”
“It was rhetorical and hypothetical,” Harf said. “He didn’t put it out there as a proposal.”
After Kerry said in London on Monday that Assad could avoid a U.S. attack by “turning over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting,” the Russian foreign minister made that offer to Syria, and the Syrian foreign minister reportedly welcomed the idea. Since then, the State Department has tried to walk back Kerry’s statement, with Harf calling it a “rhetorical statement about a scenario that we think is highly unlikely” on Monday.
Harf said the U.S. harbors “deep skepticism” that the Assad regime would actually hand over its chemical weapons.
“We’re only having this discussion in the context of U.S. military action,” Harf said. “This proposal with the Russians and Syrians is only taking place within that context.”
“Clearly we think it would be good if we could get these weapons under international lock and key,” Harf said. “But we don’t want the Syrian regime to be able to use this as another stalling exercise.”
Harf said Kerry had spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday after the press conference in which Kerry made the statement that prompted the proposal.