By David Lauter
4:14 PM EDT, September 9, 2013
WASHINGTON – Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking at the White House, offered a qualified endorsement Monday of a Russian plan for Syria to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles.
"If the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control,” Clinton said, “that would be an important step.” A move to give up its chemical weapons should be “immediate,” she said, and should not be an excuse for “delay.”
Her remarks, made after a meeting with President Obama, appeared to signal the White House response to the proposal, made earlier in the day by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, for Syria to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, in a statement issued hours before Clinton spoke, said his country would “cooperate fully” with Russia on the plan.
In her statement, Clinton said the Russian plan only developed because of the U.S. threat of military action in response to what U.S. officials say was a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government that killed more than 1,400 people outside the capital last month.
Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons "demands a strong response from the international community, led by the United States," Clinton said. The Assad government’s stockpiles of such weapons are an "ongoing threat" to U.S. allies in the region, she said.
The proposal for Syria to give up its weapons began with what had seemed to be an off-the-cuff remark by Secretary of State John F. Kerry during a news conference in London.
Asked if Syrian President Bashar Assad could do anything to avoid a U.S. military strike, Kerry said, "Turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community, in the next week – turn it over, all of it.
“But he isn’t about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously,” Kerry added.
A State Department spokesperson subsequently sent an email to reporters saying that Kerry had spoken rhetorically.
But in the meantime, Lavrov, who was meeting in Moscow with Moallem, said the Russians were “calling on the Syrian authorities [to] not only agree on putting chemical weapons stockpiles under international control, but also for its further destruction.”
Syria should also sign the international treaty banning chemical weapons, Lavrov said.
Obama administration officials initially seemed to dismiss the Russian proposal as merely a strategy to delay action. Verifying that Syria actually had given up all of its chemical weapons would be nearly impossible in the midst of a continuing civil war in that country, officials said.
But later remarks seemed to signal a shift in favor of the Russian idea, a move that solidified as Clinton spoke and referred to the proposal as one initiated by Kerry.
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