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Syria Pledges to Give Up Chemical Arms if U.S. Drops Military Force Threat

September 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we delve fully into the Syria story.

The diplomatic dance intensified today, with Damascus endorsing a global ban on poison gas, and the U.S. pressing for a verifiable plan.

The announcement came from Syrian President Bashar Assad on Russian state TV. His government is formally applying to join the International Convention on Chemical Weapons.

PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, Syria (through interpreter): Of course Syria will send an appeal to the United Nations and to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. After this, the work which will in the end lead to the signing of the convention and the ban of chemical weapons, will start.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Officials at the U.N. confirmed receiving the application document from Damascus. Assad also said he’s willing to hand over his chemical arsenal to outside control, under a Russian proposal, with one key condition.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD  (through interpreter): It should be a two-sided process, and it’s aimed, first of all, at stopping the U.S. from threatening Syria. When we see that the U.S. really wants stability in our region and will stop threatening and aiming to attack, and stop supplying weapons to terrorists, then we will consider the process can be brought to the final stage.

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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave no sign that condition would be acceptable.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: President Obama has made clear that, should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad’s capacity to deliver these weapons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kerry also dismissed Assad’s offer, which the Syrian leader called standard process, to wait 30 days after signing the convention to submit chemical weapons information.

JOHN KERRY: We believe there is nothing standard about this process at this minute. The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The secretary of state is in Geneva for at least two days of talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on how to secure and destroy Syria’s vast chemical weapons stockpiles, the U.S. goal, to gauge just how credible Russia’s proposal is.

JOHN KERRY: This is not a game, and I said that to my friend Sergei when we talked about it initially. It has to be real. It has to be comprehensive. It has to be verifiable. It has to be credible. It has to be timely and implemented in a timely fashion. And, finally, there ought to be consequences if it doesn’t take place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Washington, President Obama said he was optimistic about Kerry’s diplomatic efforts abroad.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am hopeful that the discussions that Secretary Kerry has with Foreign Minister Lavrov, as well as some of the other players in this, can yield a concrete result.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin aired his own views in The New York Times in the paper and on the Web.

He wrote: “Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy, but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan you’re either with us or against us.

Meanwhile, in Syria, the civil war raged on. New amateur video out today showed victims of aerial bombing filling a hospital at a rebel stronghold in the north, near Aleppo.

The rebels have been pleading for U.S. weapons, and The Washington Post reported that, after months of delays, the CIA began shipping them light arms and other munitions over the past two weeks. That was disputed by General Salim Idris, who commands the main rebel faction. He told NPR that U.S. assistance has been limited to food and medical materials, as well as flak jackets and communications gear.