“This issue requires the return of the international investigators to their work on the Syrian ground to investigate the chemical weapons use,” Lavrov said. “The truth must be revealed and the criminals responsible for using these weapons must be brought to justice.”
Russia has accused Syrian rebels of using chemical weapons in an attack on Khan al Asal, outside Aleppo, in March. The Russians submitted a 100-page report on the incident to the U.N. in July.
Chinese reaction to the developments was also favorable. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said in Beijing that the proposal “can help ease the current tension in Syria, solve the Syrian issue politically and safeguard the peace and stability of Syria and the whole region.”
France, the only country that had said it would join the United States in a military strike on Syria, said it would support the Russian proposal. But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius attached three conditions: that Assad agree to place his entire chemical weapons arsenal under international control and allow it to be destroyed, that the operation be conducted quickly under a binding U.N. resolution, and that those responsible for the attacks be referred to the International Criminal Court.
There were skeptics. Avigdor Lieberman, who chairs the Israeli Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that Syria could use the proposal to “buy time,” adding that Assad “is winning time and lots of it.”
President Shimon Peres warned Monday that negotiations over a weapons transfer would be tough and that Syria is “not trustworthy.”
There was no detail on how the destruction of Syria’s weapons stores would be carried out. In a statement, Ahmet Uzumcu, the director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body that oversees compliance with the ban on chemical weapons, said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “is considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed, and has again urged that Syria should join the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
Whether that would require U.N. inspectors to visit each of the estimated 49 locations where Syria is thought to have stored the weapons or whether they might be moved to a central location away from the fighting, such as the Russian military base at Tartus, Syria, was unknown.
Destruction of the weapons would be a daunting task. A French intelligence summary made public last week said Syria had more than 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, sarin and VX, a neurotoxin that’s considered the most potent chemical weapons in the world.
The United States is still storing tons of sarin and VX at its Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County, Ky. Both are scheduled to be destroyed at a massive plant that’s 72 percent complete. The plant is supposed to be finished in 2015, but it will take until 2020 for it to become operational.
According to the current timeline, it will take from 2020 to 2023 to destroy the weapons, said Craig Williams, the director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a citizens group that monitors the remaining weapons in Kentucky and Pueblo, Colo.
Contributing to this report were David Lightman in Washington, Greg Kocher, of the Lexington Herald-Leader, in Lexington, Ky., and McClatchy special correspondents Mel Frykberg in Jerusalem and Mitchell Prothero in Beirut.