GENEVA (AFP) – U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon Friday accused Bashar al-Assad of crimes against humanity as Washington and Moscow held crucial talks on dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
Though he did not blame the regime directly, Ban said U.N. experts will confirm in a report released next week that chemical weapons were used in an attack near Damascus that left hundreds dead.
Assad has vowed to relinquish his chemical arms, after the alleged attack prompted threats of a U.S.-led military strikes.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov were holding a second day of talks in Geneva Friday to hammer out the details of a Russian plan that emerged this week.
The last-minute Russian initiative caused U.S. President Barack Obama to back away from planned military strikes in response to the chemical attack, which Washington blames on the regime and says killed about 1,400 people.
At the United Nations, Ban lashed out at Assad and said U.N. inspectors will publish an “overwhelming report” that chemical weapons were used.
He said the Syrian leader had “carried out many crimes against humanity” and insisted there had to be “accountability” once Syria’s civil war is over.
In Geneva, Washington and Moscow said they hoped the chemical weapons talks would open the door to wider efforts to end Syria’s conflict, which has claimed more than 110,000 lives since March 2011.
Kerry said he would meet Lavrov again later this month — probably around September 28 — to try to set a date for a long-delayed peace conference.
He said Washington and Moscow were “working hard to find common ground” to get peace talks going in Geneva that would bring together Assad’s regime and the opposition.
Much of the way forward “will obviously depend on the capacity to have success here in the next day, hours, days, on the subject of the chemical weapons,” Kerry told reporters after meeting with Lavrov and the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Lavrov said he also hoped a “basically abandoned” peace plan first agreed in Geneva in June last year would be revived.
“We agreed to meet in New York in the margins of the (U.N.) General Assembly and see where we are, and what the Syrian parties think about it and do about it,” Lavrov said.
The French presidency said Kerry, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Secretary William Hague would hold further talks on Syria in Paris on Monday.
Assad confirmed for the first time Thursday that Syria planned to relinquish its chemical arms, and Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the global community to take him seriously.
“This confirms the serious intentions of our partners to go along this path,” Putin said at a security summit in Kyrgyzstan.
Syria on Thursday filed documents at the United Nations seeking to join the international convention banning chemical weapons and said it now considers itself a full member.