DAMASCUS (AFP) – The United States called Thursday for a binding UN resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons next week, as a senior Syrian official said the country’s conflict has reached a stalemate.
A “definitive” UN report had proved that the Syrian regime was behind an August chemical weapons attack, Secretary of State John Kerry said.
“Now the test comes. The (UN) Security Council must be prepared to act next week. It is vital for the international community to stand up and speak out,” he added.
Syria’s deputy premier, meanwhile, said Damascus believes the conflict has reached a stalemate and would call for a ceasefire if long-delayed peace talks in Geneva were to take place.
“Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side,” Qadri Jamil told Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
When asked what his government would propose at the stalled Geneva-2 summit, he replied: “An end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview Wednesday with television network Fox News, insisted his country was the victim of infiltration by foreign-backed Al-Qaeda fighters. “What we have is not civil war. What we have is war. It’s a new kind of war,” he said, alleging that Islamist guerrillas from more than 80 countries had joined the fight.
“We know that we have tens of thousands of jihadists… we are on the ground, we live in this country,” he said, after an expert report suggested that between 40 and 45 percent out of around 100,000 rebels were jihadists or hardline Islamists.
The president’s latest television appearance came as UN envoys debated a draft resolution that would enshrine a joint U.S.-Russian plan to secure and neutralize his banned chemical weapons.
Assad insisted in the interview that his forces had not been behind an August 21 gas attack on the Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds of civilians, but vowed nevertheless to hand over his deadly arsenal.
After last month’s barrage of sarin-loaded rockets, which the West says was clearly launched by the regime, President Barack Obama called for U.S.-led punitive military strikes.
But with U.S. lawmakers and the Western public not sold on the virtues of another Middle East military adventure, Assad’s ally Russia seized the opportunity to propose a diplomatic solution.
Pressed by President Vladimir Putin, the White House agreed to hold fire while Russia and the international community — with Assad’s agreement — draws up a disarmament plan.
That plan will face its first big test on Saturday, the one-week deadline announced by Moscow and the United States for Assad to provide a list of his chemical facilities.
Putin said Thursday he was confident but not 100 percent sure that Syria would carry out its commitments.
“Will we manage to carry it through? I can’t say 100 percent, but all that we have seen recently, in the last few days, inspires confidence that it is possible and that it will be done,” Putin told politicians and journalists at a meeting in the Novgorod region.
Meanwhile, Kerry urged China to play a “positive, constructive” role at the United Nations on the planned resolution.
He acknowledged at the start of talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that the two sides have “disagreed sharply” over the Syrian conflict.
But Wang said he was ready for “in-depth” talks on all issues, including Syria, “with an open mind.”
Away from the diplomatic front, fighters allied to Al-Qaeda tightened their grip Thursday on a town on the border with Turkey.
And a bomb attack on a bus in the central province of Homs killed 14 civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding to the more than 110,000 casualties of the 30-month conflict.
Residents said members of Al-Qaeda front group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) overran the border town of Azaz on Wednesday after an hours-long firefight with Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels.
Residents reached by Skype said ISIS men controlled all the checkpoints in the town and that FSA fighters appeared to have left.
Azaz, on the Turkish border, was one of the first towns to be overrun, in July 2012, by FSA rebels, who set up their own administration.
Tensions between some opposition groups and ISIS have spiralled in recent months, especially in northern Syria, where the opposition controls vast swathes of territory.
In Homs province, roadside bombs targeting a convoy of minibuses killed 14 civilians, the Observatory said.
The blasts occurred on the road linking Homs city to a string of villages populated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs.