September 14, 2013
Kerry, Lavrov in 'Constructive' Talks on Syria
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, will meet for a third day Saturday in Switzerland after "constructive" talks on ending Syria's chemical weapons program.
The two diplomats and the U.N. envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, are meeting in Geneva to discuss a Russian plan on how to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. The move could avert a U.S. military strike in retaliation for the Syrian regime's alleged poison-gas attack on civilians last month near Damascus.
VOA's correspondent at the talks, Scott Stearns, reports that U.S. and Russian negotiators are coming closer to agreement on the scope of Syrian chemical-weapons stockpiles, an issue that is central to identifying and containing the munitions.
Kerry will travel to Israel Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then to Paris for talks Monday with the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Saudi Arabia.
President Obama said Friday that he is hopeful that the negotiations Kerry is having will "bear fruit."
Speaking in Washington after meeting with Kuwait's leader, Mr. Obama said any agreement to destroy Syria's chemical weapons must be "verifiable."
"I repeated what I've said publicly, which is any agreement needs to be verifiable and enforceable."
Kerry says he and Lavrov have agreed to do "homework" as part of a bid to get Syria's warring factions to a conference on a transitional government.
"We both agreed to do that homework and meet again in New York around the time of the U.N. General Assembly, around the 28th [of September], in order to see if it is possible then to find a date for that conference."
In New York, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he expects a report from a team investigating the August 21 nerve-gas attack near Damascus will be an "overwhelming report" that shows chemical weapons were used. U.N. officials told VOA the report is expected on Monday.
It reportedly will focus on analysis of biomedical and environmental samples the U.N. team collected from the area of the attack. The team also took statements from medical personnel and survivors.
The team's mandate is to say only whether chemical agents were used, not who used them.
The United States says it has confirmed that more than 1,400 people died in the gas attack, and that there is no doubt the Syrian military was responsible. The Assad government contends rebels themselves carried out the gas attack.
Although the U.N. report is not complete, a spokesman for Mr. Ban said the secretary-general has been in touch with the team's experts.
Syria said Thursday it will join an international ban on chemical weapons, but says it will take a month to list all of its chemical weapons stockpile. Until this week, Syria had repeatedly denied possessing any chemical weapons.
President Bashar al-Assad has said he will only transfer his chemical-weapons arsenal to international control if the U.S. drops its threat of military action against him.
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Syria's decision to join the global poison gas ban. He said Friday that the gesture shows the Syrian government's "serious intentions" about resolving the conflict.
Mr. Ban has expressed his continuing concern about the civil war in Syria, which has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced at least six million since early 2011. The U.N. chief did not directly answer questions about whether Mr. Assad should step down, but said:
"What happened is that he has committed many crimes against humanity and therefore I am sure that there will be, surely, the process of accountability when everything is over."
Mr. Ban said the international community must press for a political solution and that it is time for the parties to stop fighting and start talking.