Putin sees hope; Kerry asks UN to act
Moscow, September 20, 2013
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he could not be 100 percent certain a US-Russian plan for the destruction of Syrian chemical arms would be carried out successfully, but he saw reason to hope it would.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was essential the deal reached last Saturday be enforced and that the UN Security Council be willing to act on it next week, when the UN General Assembly holds its annual meeting in New York.
"The Security Council must be prepared to act next week," Kerry told reporters in Washington. "It is vital for the international community to stand up and speak out in the strongest possible terms about the importance of enforceable action to rid the world of Syria's chemical weapons."
French President Francois Hollande suggested on Thursday for the first time that Paris could arm Syrian rebels in a 'controlled framework," since they were now caught, he said, between the Syrian government on one side and radical Islamists on the other.
Rebels have been fighting government forces in a civil war that has claimed 100,000 lives since 2011. Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil told Britain's Guardian newspaper that neither government forces nor rebels were currently capable of outright military victory.
Putin told a gathering of journalists and Russia experts in the Russian town of Valdai that he could not be 100 percent certain the plan for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons would succeed.
"But everything we have seen so far in recent days gives us confidence that this will happen," he said, adding, "I hope so."
Russia and the US brokered the deal to put Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's chemical arms stockpiles under international control to avoid possible US military strikes that Washington said would punish Assad for a poison gas attack last month.
The West blames Assad's government for the Aug. 21 attack in Ghouta, outside Damascus, which the United States says killed 1,429 people.
Assad, in an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, again denied his forces were responsible for the attack. Putin also reiterated Russia's contention that the attack was staged by opponents of Assad.
But Kerry said: "We really don't have time today to pretend that anyone can have their own set of facts approaching the issue of chemical weapons in Syria.
"This fight about Syria's chemical weapons is not a game. It's real. It's important," Kerry added.
Under the US-Russian deal, Assad must account for his chemical weapons stockpiles within a week and see them destroyed by the middle of next year.
Envoys from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - met on Thursday for a third straight day to discuss a draft resolution Western powers hope will make the deal legally binding.
Asked after the meeting how the talks were developing, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said, "Not bad, not bad."
British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant added after the three-hour meeting, "We're having constructive discussions and I hope that progress is being made."
Russia, a key ally of Assad, is unhappy with the draft's references to possible punitive measures against Syria under Article 7 of the UN charter, which talks about UN authorisation for sanctions and military force.
Assad said on Wednesday his government was willing to get rid of its chemical weapons but it would be a very complicated operation that would take about a year and cost about $1 billion.
"If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don't they do it?" Assad told Fox News.
UN chemical weapons investigators confirmed on Monday the use of sarin in a long-awaited report that the US, Britain and France said proved government forces were responsible. - Reuters