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Kerry set to test Russia on Syria

9/12/2013

By MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

GENEVA -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva this morning to test the seriousness of a Russian proposal to secure Syria's chemical weapons.

Kerry and a team of U.S. experts will have at least two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts today and Friday. They hope to emerge with an outline of how some 1,000 tons of chemical weapons stocks and precursor materials as well as potential delivery systems can be inventoried safely and isolated under international control in an active war zone and then destroyed.

Officials with Kerry said they would be looking for a rapid agreement on principles for the process with Russians, including a demand for a speedy Syrian accounting of their stockpiles.

One official said the task is "doable but difficult and complicated."

The official said the U.S. is looking for signs of Russian seriousness and thinks it will know in a relatively short time if the Russians are trying to stall.

Another official described the ideas the Russians have presented so far as "an opening position" that needs a lot of work and input from technical experts.

The U.S. team includes officials who worked on inspection and removal of unconventional weapons from Libya after 2003 and in Iraq after the first Gulf War.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the sensitive negotiations, said the teams that eventually go into Syria to do the work would have to have an international mix, as would their security.

In an opinion piece published today in the New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote, "The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government's willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction."

Putin urged the U.S. not to launch a military strike on Syria, saying, "It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States."

Kerry planned to meet today with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, before sitting down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The hastily arranged meeting in Geneva comes as the White House tries to pin success or failure of the diplomatic track on Russia's willingness to take a tough line with its ally Syria. Syrian rebels, however, are disappointed at best in President Barack Obama's decision to forgo a military strike in favor of an agreement to take access to chemical weapons away from President Bashar Assad.

At the same time, the CIA has been delivering light machine guns and other small arms to Syrian rebels for several weeks, following Obama's decision to arm the rebels.

The agency also has arranged for the Syrian opposition to receive anti-tank weaponry like rocket-propelled grenades through a third party.