Just hours after Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to the United Kingdom that Syrian president Bashr Al Assad has but one week to surrender his chemical weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that his country will push its ally Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control and then dismantle them quickly to avert U.S. military strikes.
Kerry had demanded that Assad surrender control of "every single bit" of his chemical arsenal to the international community by the end of the week. The top U.S. diplomat added that he thought Assad is not likely to hand over such control. However, Lavrov said that Moscow will convince the Syrians. He just wrapped up a series of talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. "If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus," Lavrov said.
"We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons," he said.
Lavrov said that he expects a "quick, and, hopefully, positive answer" to the Russian proposal.
Lavrov's statement followed media reports alleging that Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to negotiate a deal that would have Assad hand over control of chemical weapons. The Russian diplomat denied that Russia was trying to sponsor any deal "behind the back of the Syrian people."
The Russian move comes as Obama is pressing for a limited strike against the Syrian government. Obama is negotiating with Congress over the proposed strike, while he will address the nation on September 10.
Syria has denied launching the August 21 chemical attack that killed approximately 1,200 people. while insisting along with its ally Russia that the attack was launched by the rebels to drag the U.S. into war.
Al-Moallem said that Syria is ready to use all channels to convince the U.S. that Assad's regime was not behind the attack. President Assad himself appeared in a televised interview with journalist Charlie Rose of CBS News and again denied responsbility.
Al-Moallem said that Syria was ready for "full cooperation with Russia to remove any pretext for aggression."
Lavrov said that his government is promoting a peaceful settlement and may try to convene the Syrian opposition figures to join in negotiations. He added that a U.S. attack on Syria would deal a fatal blow to peace efforts. He did not say how Russia would respond to a U.S. attack on Syria, even though Russian ships are near the Syrian coast, adding that that "we wouldn't like to proceed from a negative scenario and would primarily take efforts to prevent a military intervention."
Putin said that his government will continue to provide assistance to Syria in case of U.S. attack, even while he and other Russian officials have made clear that Russia has no intention of engaging in hostilities.