John Kerry’s offhand comment on chemical weapons in Syria that may stop a war

Washington: America may have opened a door a crack to a diplomatic solution to avoid airstrikes on Syria with an apparently offhand suggestion from US Secretary of State John Kerry being taken up by Russia and other allies.

Even as President Barack Obama and his key allies were making the case for a strike with a concerted media blitz in Washington, DC, Mr Kerry told reporters in London that if the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad immediately surrendered all his chemical weapons to international control, he could avert the Obama administration’s drive for an attack.

“But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done,” the Secretary of State added.

The State Department soon clarified Mr Kerry’s remarks, saying they were not a formal proposal, but “rhetorical and hypothetical”.

But soon the idea gained support from Syria’s key ally, Russia, which proposed that Syria place its chemical weapons under international control for their destruction.

“We have given our proposal to Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and are counting on a fast and, I hope, positive response,” said the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

In turn Syria made a rapid, vague but positive response, telling the Russian Interfax newsagency: “The Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the concerns of the Russian leadership for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country.”

In turn, the White House itself was soon reacting to the proposal, with the deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken telling reporters, “We would welcome a decision and action by Syria to give up its chemical weapons.

“We will take a hard look at the proposal,” he said, adding that the “track record to date, doesn’t give you a lot of confidence.”

Then, around 2pm in Washington, when the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared at the White House to make pre-scheduled comments in support of the Obama administration’s push for a military strike, she reflected the new diplomatic tone.

If Syria’s government immediately surrendered its chemical weapons stockpiles to international control, “that would be an important step,” she said. “But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction. And Russia has to support the international community’s efforts sincerely or be held to account.”

She pressed the administration’s case that Mr Assad had used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war, killing 1400 people, and that the action demanded a strong international response lead by the United States.

By mid-afternoon British Prime Minister David Cameron had chimed in, saying: “”If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use under international supervision, clearly that would be a big step forward and should be encouraged. I think we have to be careful, though, to make sure this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else, rather than the problem on the table. But if it’s a genuine offer, it should be genuinely looked at.”

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon backed calls for Syria to give up its weapons, saying: “I am considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed.”

The day had not begun with any overtures of peace. In an interview with CBS, parts of which were screened on morning television in America, Mr Assad had made veiled threats against the US.

He said America should expect “every action” should it attack Syria, apparently suggesting his allies in Iran and the militant group Hezollah might join his regime in striking back.

“You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. You have everything in this region now,” he said in an interview with CBS, apparently referring to his allies.

He denied being a “butcher”, instead comparing himself to a surgeon.

“When you have a doctor to cut the leg to prevent the patient from the gangrene, you don’t call him a butcher; you call him a doctor, and you thank him for saving lives,” he said.

“When you have terrorism, you have war, when you have war, you always have innocent lives that could be the victim of any war.”

He claimed that rebels had used chemical weapons, rather than the administration.

And with Congress returning from its summer recess, the White House has begun its most concerted effort to lobby for authorisation to strike. President Obama is due to speak on all five networks to make his case for an attack in the coming hours, while Susan Rice, the National Security Advisor, justified a military response during an address to the progressive think tank, the New America Foundation in DC.

Polls show that the tide is turning against Mr Obama as he seeks to convince Congress and the American people that a military response to the alleged use of chemical weapons is in the national interest. A new Pew Research survey shows that the public’s opposition to strikes has increased significantly over just the past week, rising from 48 to 63 per cent opposed.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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