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12 Sep, 2013 17:46

'This is not a game': Kerry, Lavrov start Syria chem arms talks

Russia-US talks on Syria have kicked off in Geneva with FM Lavrov saying a military strike is unneeded once Damascus agreed to put its chemical weapons under international control, and Secretary Kerry insisting “words are not enough.”

“I am sure that our American partners, as President Obama earlier said, firmly prefer a peaceful solution to the Syrian chemical weapon problem,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva, ahead of their talks. 

These new developments on Syria make it possible to call new talks, the so-called “Geneva-2” peace conference, to find a solution to the ongoing war, Lavrov said. 

The US, however, still has doubts that Syria is ready to give up its chemical weapons stockpile, Kerry said. President Assad has 10 days to join the international chemical weapons ban treaty, he added. 

Kerry said that during his talks with Lavrov he would try to find out whether it is possible to put Syrian WMD under the supervision of international organizations, and to eventually get them out of the country and ensure their destruction.

Earlier in the day, the UN said that it received a letter from Syria confirming the country’s intention to join the treaty banning the production of chemical arms, their stockpiling and use.

The Syrian government’s letter of accession is being translated, AP cited UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq as saying. Signing the letter accession begins the process for a country to become party to the international agreement, the official said. 

Kerry rejected as not quick enough Assad’s proposal to begin submitting data on the Syrian chemical weapons within a month of signing the Chemical Weapons Convention, given the circumstances of last month’s poison gas attack.

Earlier Thursday, in an interview with a Russian TV channel, the Syrian leader described his proposal as “a standard procedure.” 

“There is nothing standard about this process” because Assad has used his chemical weapons, Kerry told the news conference. “The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough.”

Men walk on rubble of buildings damaged by what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr district, September 9, 2013.(Reuters / Abdalghne Karoof)

“This is not a game,” he said, adding that the decision on the chemical weapons transfer had to be “comprehensive, verifiable and also, implemented in a timely fashion.”

He added that the US would go ahead with its earlier plan to launch a “limited” military strike against Syria if Damascus doesn't agree to dismantle its chemical arsenal properly.

"There ought to be consequences if it doesn't take place," AP reported Kerry as saying. 

Both diplomats seemed to be rather optimistic ahead of the talks. Lavrov, wrapping up the speech at the media conference, expressed hope that a compromise may be reached.

I’m glad that John Kerry in his comprehensive presentation of the American position has also confirmed his determination to seeking a compromise,” he said. “If we follow that rule, I hope we will reach a result.”   

I lost the last paragraph,” Kerry said, asking for the translation of the final piece of Lavrov’s speech to be passed to him. “It was ok John, don’t’ worry,” Lavrov responded, causing laughter in the conference hall. On this positive note the two diplomats left for the talks.

Kerry and Lavrov, accompanied by delegations of experts, are going to discuss Russia’s proposal for Damascus to put its chemical weapons under international control and to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria has accepted the proposal.