Syria says it is prepared to place its arsenal of chemical weapons under international control and sign a global treaty that would prohibit their use, as it looks to avoid a military conflict with the United States. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem confirmed the decision in a statement to Russian news agency Interfax Tuesday.
The move comes after Syria publicly agreed to a Russian proposal to cede control of its chemical weapons, make them available for inspection, and ultimately destroy them. President Barack Obama earlier tentatively embraced Russia's proposal, calling it a potential "breakthrough" in televised interviews, but the State Department has expressed skepticism about Syria's commitment to an international ban.
"We want to join the chemical weapons ban treaty. We will respect our commitments."
"We are ready to state where the chemical weapons are, to halt production of chemical weapons and show these installations to representatives of Russia, other countries and the UN," al-Moallem said Tuesday, speaking to the Al-Mayadeen TV station. "We want to join the chemical weapons ban treaty. We will respect our commitments in relation to the treaty, including providing information on these weapons."
There are currently 189 countries that have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, a 1993 international agreement that forbids the production, stockpiling, and deployment of chemical weapons. Syria is one of five countries that have neither signed nor acceded to the agreement, alongside Angola, Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan.
Forcing Syria to adhere to the ban and renounce its stockpiles has been a central part of Obama's case for intervention, with the president arguing that securing Assad's poison gas supply is critical to American security interests. Obama has been pushing for a limited military strike following an August 21st chemical attack that left more than 1,400 dead outside Damascus, according to US intelligence. The president laid out his reasoning Monday in a televised interview with NBC News:
"The chemical weapons ban that has been in place is not something that only protects civilians. It also protects our own troops. You know, they don’t have to wear gas masks even in tough battlefields because there is a strong prohibition and countries generally don’t stockpile them. And if we see that ban unravel, it will create a more dangerous world for us and for our troops when they’re in theater as well as for civilians around the world. It is worth preserving."
Secretary of State John Kerry remains reluctant to take Syria's words at face value. In a Google+ Hangout held Tuesday afternoon, Kerry said Syria should "go further" than declaring its weapons and signing the international ban, calling upon Russia and the the Assad government "to work out a formula by which those weapons could be transferred to international control and destroyed."
According to the Associated Press, Kerry will discuss Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Verge.
Earlier Tuesday, the US said it would work with the UN Security Council to explore diplomatic resolutions, after President Barack Obama met with his French and British counterparts. France has already begun circulating a draft resolution at the UN, though Syria has publicly rejected it because it would authorize the use of military force.