MOSCOW, September 15 (RIA Novosti) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that the United States would continue its diplomatic efforts to bring Syrian opposition forces to a planned international peace conference in Geneva.
The Russian foreign minister said in an interview aired by Rossiya 1 TV channel that US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed the intention to work “with the [Syrian National] Coalition, which the UN, Europe and most countries in the region consider the sole representative of the Syrian people, so that it stopped rejecting the idea of the conference and arrived [to Geneva].”
Lavrov said the conference would also be attended by “other opposition forces, including those who have never left Syria and expressed their protest in the country, not from abroad.”
He said the US would also seek to persuade its allies “who have a cautious attitude towards the international conference” to take part.
Speaking about Russian-US dialog on Syria, Lavrov said presidents of the two states have agreed to regularly exchange information and estimates of Syria’s chemical stockpiles.
He assured that Damascus gave written guarantees that even before officially joining the treaty, it would observe provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention without preconditions.
“The main step that allowed us to prepare all documents for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) so promptly was made by Damascus… Americans say it was done only under the threat of the use of force. This is non-essential to us. What is important is that Damascus announced joining the convention for the prohibition of chemical weapons, unambiguously and without any preconditions,” the Russian diplomat said.
Russia is “absolutely certain” that last month’s chemical weapons attack, which allegedly killed more than 1,400, was fabricated to provoke a foreign military strike, he said.
Washington has accused the Syrian government, which has been battling a domestic insurgency for over two years, of killing civilians outside Damascus with poison gas on August 21, and has threatened airstrikes against government targets in retaliation.
Moscow fiercely opposes military action and maintains that the attacks were carried out by Syrian rebel fighters, and Russian President Vladimir Putin called the US accusations "unimaginable nonsense."
According to Russia’s top diplomat, the attack was carried out by “bad people, who used chemical warfare agents in this or that way, in our opinion, aiming mainly to provoke a foreign military strike as a punishment for the regime,” he said, adding that “there was no logic” in such actions.
After weeks of intense diplomacy and an almost three-day-long marathon of talks in Geneva between Lavrov and Kerry, Moscow and Washington reached a breakthrough agreement on Saturday.
The deal stipulates that Damascus will submit a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons within a week, that weapons inspectors will be on the ground in Syria by November, and that all the country’s weapons will be removed or destroyed by the middle of 2014, Kerry said.
Russia and the US have also reached a consensus on the quantity and types of chemical weapons in Syria. A White House official told AFP that Syria’s chemicals weapons – including mustard gas, Sarin and precursors – are stored at 45 facilities and amount to 1,000 tons.
International governments and organizations welcomed the deal on Saturday evening.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the agreement should give further momentum to a political solution to end “the horrendous bloodshed” in Syria.
“This is an important step towards the goal of ensuring the swift, secure and verifiable elimination of Syria's stocks of chemical weapons. Full and unreserved Syrian compliance is now key,” he said in a statement. “The international community has a responsibility to make sure that the long-standing norm and practice against the use of chemical weapons is maintained, and violators are held accountable.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said US and Russia are currently finalizing the details of the agreement and will submit a draft decision to the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the next few days.
“This will set out detailed procedures for the expeditious destruction of materiel, the termination of the chemical weapons program and a stringent verification process,” she said. “I call on the UN Security Council to assume its responsibilities in agreeing swiftly on a resolution that will give further authority to the whole process.”
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague praised the deal as a "significant step forward," adding that there "must now be full and prompt implementation of the agreement, to ensure the transfer of Syria's chemical weapons to international control."