Russia's ambassador to Jordan has urged the United States to have the "trust and wisdom" to agree to a peaceful solution that would avoid a military strike on Syria.
Alexander Kalugin, a key Russian pointman on Syria, said Moscow was "prepared and eager" to secure Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Syria has backed a Russian proposal but Kalugin said the Russian Foreign Ministry had not yet received an official confirmation of Syria's acceptance to put its chemical weapons under international control. Russia approached Syria with the offer on Monday after Secretary of State John Kerry floated the idea earlier in the day.
"I think it's a good development. We need to go ahead with this proposal and initiate," Kalugin told BuzzFeed. "The most important thing is for the international community to take this step and avoid a strike."
Kalugin said the "first step" had already been made by Kerry on Monday morning. When asked at a London press conference if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a U.S. military strike, Kerry replied, "Sure, he could turn 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 (of it), but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done." U.S. officials have since sought to downplay Kerry's statements.
But Russia seized upon them as an opportunity to offer a solution to offset what they have called President Obama's attempts at "legitimizing aggression" in Syria.
Kalugin said that within hours of Kerry's speech, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acted upon the opportunity and met with Assad's foreign Minister, Walid al-Moualem, who was in Moscow Monday.
"Lavrov acted and received a positive response from the Syrian foreign minister. We are now waiting to hear an official response from Syria and from the other players involved," said Kalugin. "We hope this response will come quickly and that people will act to avoid what could be very horrible violence in Syria."
He said there was "concern" that the U.S. and its allies would not trust Russia to secure the chemical weapons, and that an international team could be assembled to enter Syria.
"There would be someone authorized by the U.N. perhaps, someone who will check and verify and so on. The most difficult part is how to achieve this so that everyone is satisfied," he said. "If we are to avoid a larger war, we must have trust."
He said that Russia was "ready" and had "quite good experts" who could move into Syria quickly. He did not say whether the chemical weapons would be secured on the ground in Syria or moved to another location.
Syria's vast chemical weapons arsenal is considered to be one of the largest and most deadly by international experts. Since Syria's civil war broke out two and a half years ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is believed to have moved the stockpiles to military bases near the country's southern border with Jordan.
Sheera Frenkel is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in San Francisco. She has reported from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and across the Middle East. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4A53 A35C 06BE 5339 E9B6 D54E 73A6 0F6A E252 A50F
Contact Sheera Frenkel at email@example.com.
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