Russian President Vladimir Putin said he isn’t “100 percent” certain that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will fulfill his commitment to give up chemical weapons.
Putin’s comments today may indicate that Russia, Syria’s arms provider and ally, harbors doubts about Assad’s reliability, though less so than the U.S., which has demanded a quick and intrusive process to prevent the use of Syria’s chemical arsenal and to test whether the Syrian leader will give it up.
Putin said Syria has taken “practical steps” by joining the Chemical Weapons Convention barring such arms and it now faces a disarmament process under a U.S.-Russia accord reached last week in Geneva that begins with an accounting of the weapons inventory due Sept. 21.
“Will it be possible to bring everything to a conclusion?” Putin said in Valdai, Russia. “I can’t say 100 percent. But everything that we’ve seen up to now inspires confidence that this can and will be done.”
As the U.S. threatened military action, Russia proposed that Syria turn over its chemical weapons to international control and Assad said Syria would join the convention, which requires steps to declare, secure and eliminate his arsenal.
Assad said yesterday that he envisions it will take about a year to destroy his chemical weapons and related equipment. Meeting the disclosure and inspection conditions is “no problem, we can do it tomorrow,” Assad said in a Fox News Channel interview.
While saying he is committed to surrendering those weapons, Assad gave no ground in his assertions that rebels, not his forces, were responsible for the Aug. 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people.
Assad said he has set no conditions on cooperating with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, the body based in The Hague that implements the treaty. Previously, he’d said that Syria’s actions depended on the U.S. and others not supplying weapons to rebel forces.
“We are committed” to the full requirements of the treaty and any delay in implementation “is not about will, it’s about techniques,” he said.
Assad faces an early test because, under the U.S.-Russia accord negotiated last week in Geneva by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he is supposed to turn over a full inventory of his country’s chemical weapons arsenal by Sept. 21. That would then be subject to intrusive verification by the OPCW.
Assad said that eliminating the arsenal is a complicated process that will be done as directed by OPCW experts. He said he’s been told it may take about a year and cost as much as $1 billion to destroy the chemical weapons without creating environmental problems.
Assad didn’t explicitly address the U.S.-Russia accord, which averted American military action in return for Syria giving up its chemical arsenal. He presented Syria’s promised actions as occurring under the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined last week after decades during which it didn’t acknowledge having chemical arms.
“Whenever we join an agreement as Syria, we always committed to those agreements,” he said.
The Fox News interview in Damascus was arranged by Dennis Kucinich, an anti-war activist who’d met with Assad on a past visit to Syria as a Democratic congressman from Ohio. Kucinich, who works as a contributor to Fox News, was joined by Fox correspondent Greg Palkot in questioning Assad.
The U.S.-Russia accord sets an objective of completing the destruction or removal of chemical weapons and related equipment by next June 30.
While Kerry has said that Syria “must submit” a full disclosure of its chemical weapons by Sept. 21, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said yesterday that the date -- one week after the accord was reached in Geneva -- and others in the accord were more a “timeline” than “a hard and fast deadline.”
What counts is seeing “forward momentum, understanding that it’s complicated and that these are targets on a calendar,” she told reporters in Washington.
Russia’s army may send chemical and biological experts to Syria to assist with the operation, Kommersant reported, citing an unidentified military official.
With the threat of military action receding, West Texas Intermediate crude fell for the fourth time in five days. WTI crude for October delivery, which expires tomorrow, slid $1.05 to $107.02 a barrel at at 12:31 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The unedited, hour-long interview provided Assad with an extended opportunity to present his view of the civil war in his nation that has killed more than 100,000 people and uprooted about 6 million.
He described the rebels as 80 percent to 90 percent jihadists, dismissing broad public opposition that started with peaceful protests, and he said that more than 15,000 government soldiers have died in the 2 1/2 years of fighting. While saying he is open to peace talks, his view of how that might proceed differs from that of opposition leaders, who insist that he must quit as part of any deal.
While not disputing the findings of UN inspectors that the nerve agent sarin was used in an attack in the Ghouta area near Damascus, Assad said his forces weren’t responsible. The U.S., U.K., France and analysts have said the findings implicate regime forces. The UN team was barred by its mandate from placing responsibility.
“We didn’t use any chemical weapons in Ghouta,” he said, saying that doing so would have put at risk his troops as well as tens of thousands of civilians.
Syria yesterday gave Russia what it said was evidence supporting its case that rebels were responsible. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said during a visit to Damascus yesterday that Russia is “unhappy” about the findings of the UN investigation, according to Russian state broadcaster RT.
“We think that report was distorted, it was one-sided, the basis of information upon which it is built is not sufficient, and in any case we would need to learn and know more on what happened beyond and above that incident of Aug. 21,” Ryabkov told RT.
--With assistance from Ilya Khrennikov and Henry Meyer in Moscow, Nicole Gaouette in Washington, Joshua Fellman, Moming Zhou and Peter S. Green in New York, Sangwon Yoon in United Nations, James G. Neuger in Brussels, Andrew Langley in London and Anastasia Ustinova in Chicago. Editors: Bob Drummond, Larry Liebert
To contact the reporters on this story: Terry Atlas in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at firstname.lastname@example.org
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