WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States said Monday it would welcome a plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons but expressed skepticism at the Russian initiative, which is designed to head off American air strikes.
Senior officials at the White House and the State Department moved swiftly to respond to the Russian plan, as they escalated a political effort designed to win backing from lawmakers for U.S. air attacks on Syria.
Tony Blinken, a deputy U.S. national security advisor, said that Washington would consult with Russia over the plan, but expressed doubt about Syria’s intentions.
“We would welcome a decision and action by Syria to give up its chemical weapons,” Blinken said.
“We will take a hard look at the proposal,” he said.
But he added that Syria’s “track record to date, doesn’t give you a lot of confidence.”
Another deputy national security advisor, Ben Rhodes, told MSNBC that Washington would not “take the pressure” off Damascus, arguing like other officials that it was only the threat of U.S. strikes that prompted Russia to come with the plan.
Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, warned that any plan to get Syria to dispose of its chemical arms should not be “another stalling tactic.”
“The Russians for months and years have stood up for the Syrian regime at the UN and in the international community,” she said.
Moscow earlier seized the diplomatic initiative by announcing a plan for Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control, which it said could forestall U.S. air strikes.
Earlier, in London, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked what Assad could do to prevent a military attack.
“Turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting for that,” Kerry told reporters, referring to Syria’s chemical weapons. “But he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done.”
Harf said earlier that Kerry had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before leaving London on Monday.