U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry answers a question during a news conference at the U.S. embassy in Paris Sept. 8. (REUTERS/Susan Walsh/Pool)
GENEVA — Secretary of State John F. Kerry demanded Thursday that the Syrian government keep its pledge to give up its chemical weapons arsenal and warned that talks with his Russian counterpart cannot become a delaying tactic.
Appearing before reporters alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Kerry said that “achieving a peaceful resolution is clearly preferable to military action” to degrade Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities. But he said it was “too early to tell whether or not these efforts will succeed.”
The United States is serious about “engaging in substantive, meaningful negotiations,” Kerry said, even as the U.S. military maintains pressure on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Kerry spoke after Assad said in a Russian television interview that he was willing to cede control of his country’s chemical weapons — but only if the United States stops threatening military action and sending weapons to Syrian rebels.
The Syrian dictator, who is accused of authorizing a poison-gas attack last month that killed more than 1,400 civilians in rebel-held or contested areas, also seemed to link any relinquishing of his arsenal to a requirement that Israel give up the nuclear weapons that it is widely believed to have — but does not acknowledge possessing.
No country in the Middle East, especially Israel, should possess weapons of mass destruction, Assad said in the interview with Rossiya 24 television.
Assad even blamed the United States for last month’s chemical attack. “The threats were based on a provocation,” he said in the interview. “It was carried out using chemical weapons in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. That provocation was carried out by the U.S. administration.”
“When we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack, and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists, then we will believe that the necessary processes can be finalized,” Assad said.
“Threats made by the United States did not influence our decision to permit the monitoring of our chemical weapons by the international community,” Assad said in the interview. Rather, he insisted, he was acting in response to a diplomatic proposal by Syria’s longtime patron, Russia.
He pledged that Damascus would begin handing over information on its chemical weapons stockpiles one month after it joins an international convention outlawing such weapons, as is the standard practice.
Reacting to Assad’s position, Kerry said in Geneva, “We believe there is nothing standard about this process at this moment” because of what he called the Syrian regime’s “massive” and “unacceptable” use of chemical weapons to massacre its own citizens on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21.
Syria became a full member of the global anti-chemical weapons treaty Thursday, the country's U.N. envoy said.