Updated with unconfirmed Russian newspaper report about Moscow’s four-step plan for handling Syria’s chemical weapons.
MOSCOW, September 12 (RIA Novosti) – Russian and US chemical weapons experts are set to attend a bilateral diplomatic meeting on the Syrian crisis late today in Switzerland, Russia’s foreign minister said Thursday.
“Both we and the Americans are bringing to Geneva delegations of experts who have all the necessary knowledge and experience to determine ways of resolving such issues,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the end of a visit to Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.
The hastily organized talks are meant to discuss Moscow’s plan, proposed Monday, to avert a US attack on Syria by placing Damascus’ chemical weapons under international control. Meetings are scheduled to run for at least two days, with pundits predicting they could continue next week.
Russia formulated its plan following US threats to launch a military strike on Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21 that Washington blames on Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. Moscow has tentatively backed the Assad regime’s claims that the attack was a provocation by rebel forces trying to draw the US into the war.
The Moscow-based newspaper Kommersant on Thursday published details of what it claimed to be Russia’s four-step plan for handling Syria’s chemical weapons, citing an unnamed Russian diplomatic source: First, Syria would join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW); second, Damascus would declare the locations of its chemical weapons storage and production; third, OPCW inspectors would get access to the sites; fourth, Damascus and the inspectors would jointly decide how the weapons are to be destroyed and by whom.
Washington’s strike plans were apparently put on hold this week after Russia seized on a comment made by US Secretary of State John Kerry in London, who said the only way for Syria to avert an imminent US military strike was to turn its chemical weapons over to international control.
In Astana, Lavrov reiterated Russia’s stance that the Russian plan would only be feasible if Washington and its allies pledge not to use force against Assad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Moscow hoped Syria would accept international control over its chemical weapon stockpiles and also join the Chemical Weapons Convention.
One potential complication for the Geneva talks, experts have said, could be ensuring the safety of outside inspection teams who could be sent into Syria in the midst of a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people, according to UN estimates.