Bashar al-Assad has said he will place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control in line with a proposal from Russia.
The Syrian president, speaking to Russia’s Rossiya 24 state news channel, denied however that US pressure had anything to do with the decision to surrender the arsenal.
“Syria is transferring its chemical weapons to international control because of Russia,” he said in an interview the Rossia 24 television channel. “The threats of the United States had no influence on the decision to put the weapons under [international] control.”
In excerpts released by the channel on Thursday afternoon, he added that Syria is sending the United Nations documents for preparing the agreement on the weapons.
The interview came as John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, arrived in Geneva for talks with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, on Syria’s chemical weapons.
American officials said the key test of the talks was a mechanism that guaranteed Damascus would make a quick declaration of its stockpile before putting it under supervision and out of use.
The Russian and American deal is expected to be backed by a UN resolution compelling Damascus to comply but not threatening force.
America has indicated to its allies that it is ready to concede that a UN Security Council resolution can be adopted under Chapter 6 of the UN Chapter. That is a less punitive regime than Chapter 7 which authorises the use of force to impose its terms.
“The US is ready for a resolution that does not have the use of force included because it is determined to ensure the UN demonstrates Syrian culpability for chemical weapons attacks,” the official said.
One US official said Mr Kerry would demand a rapid timetable for putting the weapons under international control.
US officials said that a deal with Russia was “doable but difficult” and told reporters that they would seek to ensure that Damascus could be locked into a timeline for comprehensive disarmament.
The rebel Free Syrian Army has categorically denied the Russian proposal for placing the chemical weapons stock under international control, dismissing it as a “political manoeuvre aimed at buying time”.
Meanwhile a United Nations report probing the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria will provide circumstantial evidence that indicates the Syrian government is culpable, Western officials have said.
Under the terms of the UN mandate inspectors are only authorised to conclude whether chemical weapons have been used in Syria, without apportioning blame.
However, the testing of soil, urine and blood samples, as well as of ammunition collected from the area, have also reportedly supplied strong clues that point to the Syrian government as the perpetrator of the attack.
“Only the regime had the [chemical weapons] stocks, the [firing] vectors and the interest in doing it, so we can draw a conclusion from that,” Laurant Fabius, France’s foreign minister told French radio.
The UN inspection team is expected to present their findings to Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secratary General, on Monday.
Syria and Russia deny that President Bashar al-Assad’s military is responsible for the attack, and instead blame rebel groups. The two countries have highlighted other alleged chemical weapons attacks where Syrian soldiers appear to have been hit by a nerve agent.
This includes the attack on the town of Khan al-Assal, close to Aleppo, on March 19 this year where soldiers were among the victims.
On Thursday Mr Fabius disparaged claims that the rebels had deployed chemical weapons: “That is not the truth. This is a version the Russians have been putting forward for a long time. [Putin] is playing his game.”