Is Syria's plan just a 'ruse'? David Cameron seeks urgent UN resolution to test proposal

PM fears plan to move Syria’s chemical weapons to internationally controlled sites inside the country could be 'delaying tactics' to buy time for Assad regime

Britain, America and France were calling on Russia tonight to back a binding UN resolution requiring Syria to surrender its chemical weapons within as little as 45 days.

Western diplomats in New York were still drawing up a resolution that would set a deadline for Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, to hand over control of his weapons stockpiles to international authorities.

And in what could become a test of the sincerity of Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, the resolution could potentially include authorisation for eventual force against Syria under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter should it not comply.

This is likely to be strongly opposed by Russia. Tonight President Putin insisted that the peace plan would only work “if the US and those who support it renounce the use of force”.  Ominously perhaps, Russia at the last minute withdrew a request for a Security Council meeting that had been set for tonight.

In another day of dizzying diplomatic activity, David Cameron and President Barack Obama announced that they would table a resolution at the UN Security Council encapsulating the proposal uttered first, almost as if by mistake, by Secretary of State John Kerry in London on Monday and then taken up in more urgent and concrete terms by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow.

Under the Russian plan Syria’s chemical weapons would be moved to internationally controlled sites inside the country where they could be destroyed. In an attempt to bolster its credibility, Syria said it would for the first time sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. Mr Kerry meanwhile plans to hold direct talks with Mr Lavrov in Geneva tomorrow.

In London, following a telephone call with Mr Obama, Mr Cameron told MPs he was sceptical about Russia’s intentions but suggested the proposals were worth exploring. “If we can achieve the removal and the destruction of the biggest chemical weapons arsenal in the world, that would be a significant step forward,” he said. “So it is definitely worth exploring but we must be sceptical, we must be careful, we must enter this with a very hard head and some pretty cool calculations, because we do not want this to be some delaying tactic, some ruse to just buy time for a regime that must act on chemical weapons.”

However government sources dismissed suggestions that the Prime Minister might return to Parliament to seek approval for the UK to join in military action should the Assad regime not comply.

In a tricky dual-track approach, President Obama was set in an address from the Oval Office tonight to reaffirm his case for military strikes against Syria while at the same time allowing space for a diplomatic solution. He earlier requested that votes in Congress on the issue be postponed pending diplomatic developments.

The plan for a non-violent solution was quickly embraced on Capitol Hill where Senate and House leaders were hastily revising a resolution to put to Congress authorising strikes to take the Russian plan into account.  It would set a deadline, possibly of 45 days, for the UN successfully to hold Syria to account and to secure all its chemical weapons. If the effort falls short then Mr Obama would be authorised to launch strikes.

But many things could still trip the effort, including Russian opposition to any Chapter 7 reference as well as any language explicitly condemning the Assad regime for using chemical weapons. Crucially, however, China tonight indicated its support at least for the notion of Syria giving up the weapons.

And then there is the question of Syrian compliance. The Syrian Prime Minister, Wael Nader al-Halqi, and Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moallem, both said that Syria was ready to accept the plan and hand over all its chemical weapons. There was no word, however, from President Assad.

Mr Lavrov promised to move fast. “We are hoping to present this plan in the near future,” he said. “We will be ready to work through this plan and improve it with the participation of the UN Secretary General, chemical weapons control organisations and the members of the Security Council.”

Kerry stumbles across escape route from war

At times of crisis diplomats know to weigh and calibrate every word they utter, particularly if reporters are about.

Yet there was John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, telling a CBS correspondent out of the blue that if Syria surrendered “every single bit” of its chemical weapons arsenal this crisis would be over.

The remark got Washington scurrying. Do NOT take this seriously, the State Department advised in a media statement. 

Discipline, forward thinking, consideration of every possible consequence – all seem to have been lacking from the start.

From which buried synapse did Mr Kerry’s notion of Syria relinquishing its weapons come from exactly? It turns out the thought was not entirely random.

Barack Obama late on Monday revealed that pressuring Syria to hand over its weapons came up during a private meeting last Friday with Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg. Mr Kerry mis-spoke about a possible solution, Russia within hours ran with it, and maybe, just maybe, the escape hatch from war has been opened.

David Usborne

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: ACS qualified Domestic Gas Brea...

Recruitment Genius: Product Packager / Stock Assistant

£16250 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Product Packager / Stock Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen