Responses to Russia's Surprise Syria Proposal

A surprise proposal by Russia offered a solution to the crisis in Syria that would also achieve a longstanding goal of the non-proliferation community: the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program. The Russian proposal would move all Syrian chemical weapons into international custody for safe keeping and eventual dismantlement. It’s a sound policy idea – the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has roughly two decades of experience in verifying deals just like this. And so far, political responses seem to be encouraging. Below is a summary of responses to the proposal.*

Russia: President Vladimir Putin: "Certainly, this is all reasonable, it will function and will work out, only if the US and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force, because it is difficult to make any country – Syria or any other country in the world – to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration," Putin said on Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: "We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons."

Syria: Foreign Minister Walid Moallem: In an interview Tuesday with Lebanon-based Al-Maydeen TV Moallem said "We fully support Russia's initiative concerning chemical weapons in Syria, and we are ready to cooperate. As a part of the plan, we intend to join the Chemical Weapons Convention." He said Syria is "ready to fulfill our obligations...We will open our storage sites, and cease production. We are ready to open these facilities to Russia, other countries and the United Nations...We intend to give up chemical weapons altogether." 

Foreign Minister Walid Moallem: “We, for the sake of protecting our people and children and country and due to our trust in the Russian efforts, will cooperate fully with Russia in this regard so as to take away the excuses of this aggression."

France:"France will float a resolution in the U.N. Security Council aimed at forcing Syria to make public its chemical weapons program, place it under international control and dismantle it, the French foreign minister said Tuesday."

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius: “'The resolution will state that Damascus must reveal and dismantle its chemical weapons stockpile and accept that it should be placed under international control.' Fabius said that Syria will face 'serious consequences' if it fails to comply with the resolution, and called for those responsible for the attacks to face trial at the International Criminal Court." 

China: Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei: "We welcome and support the Russian side's suggestion...As long as it is a proposal that helps ameliorate the current tense situation in Syria, is beneficial to maintaining peace and stability in Syria and the region, and is beneficial to a political resolution, the international community ought to give it positive consideration"

Iran: Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham: "The initiative that was expressed by Moscow regarding putting an end to the Syrian crisis at this stage, the Islamic Republic of Iran favours that initiative and we find this to be within the framework of putting a halt to militarism in the region,"

Israel: "voiced skepticism about the plan with President Shimon Peres warning on Monday that negotiations would be 'tough' and that Syria is 'not trustworthy.' Avigdor Lieberman, who chairs the parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that Syria could use the idea to stall military action."

The Arab League: Secretary General, Nabil Elaraby: "expressed support for the proposal. He told reporters that the Arab League has always been in favor of a 'political resolution.'"

U.S. Administration

On Tuesday the administration "made a commitment to engage in talks at the UN regarding diplomatic efforts in response to Syria's chemical weapons." 

President Obama:  In lunch meetings with senators, the President said he "wants Congress to delay its efforts to vote on authorizing the use of force in response to Syria's use of chemical weapons until the round of diplomatic efforts that began this week have a chance to play out." 

Jay Carney, White House press secretary: “Let’s be clear, what we’re seeing with the Russian proposal and Syrian reaction has only come about because of the threat, the credible threat of U.S. military action,” Carney said Tuesday on MSNBC. “Before this morning, the Syrian government had never even acknowledged they possessed chemical weapons. Now they have.” 

Jay Carney, White House press secretary: "I think it's explicitly in reaction to the threat of retaliation."

Tony Blinken, top White house national security official: “We’re going to take a hard look at this. We will talk to the Russians about it. But I think it’s very important to note that it’s clear that this proposal comes in the context of the threat of U.S. action and the pressure that the president is exerting. And so it’s even more important that we don’t take the pressure off and that Congress gives the president the authority he’s requested." And later, [the U.S.] " would welcome a decision and action by Syria to give up its chemical weapons," but expressed doubt that Syria would follow through.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications: "We would have to take a hard look. Any transfer of chemical weapons to international control would be a positive development." 

John Kerry, Secretary of State: the U.S. has to have "a full resolution from the Security Council in order to have confidence that this has the force that it has to have." He added that the resolution must have "consequences if games are played and somebody tries to undermine this."

Marie Harf, Department of State spokeswoman: "the U.S. will take a 'hard look' at the feasibility of Kerry's proposal but the administration viewed it with 'serious skepticism.'"

Jennifer Psaki, Department of State spokeswoman: "Kerry's proposal was merely 'rhetorical' '[Kerry's] point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons. Otherwise he would have done so long ago.'"


Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): “I think it’s a very important proposal and I think it needs to get followed up very quickly." And “I think if the U.N. would accept the responsibility of maintaining these [chemical weapons] facilities, seeing that they’re secure and that Syria would announce that it is giving up any chemical weapons programs or delivery system vehicles that may have been armed, then I think we’ve got something.”

Rep. Mike Rodgers (R-MI): “Just the fact the Russians have moved tells me having this debate on military action is a having a positive outcome.”

Rep. Alan Grayson (R-FL): "The proposal to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control has a great deal of merit, and unlike the planned strikes, actually would prevent chemical warfare attacks in the future."

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) "are pushing an alternative that gives the Assad government 45 days to sign an international chemical weapons ban and begin the process of turning over its weapons."

Harry Reid (D-Nev): "We’re going to continue to work moving forward on this but keeping pronounced — and I pronounce it now — that the credible threat of our doing something about this attack is going to remain,' Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said after the president’s 75-minute meeting with Senate Democrats."

"A bipartisan group of senators (including Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) were said to be drafting a resolution authorizing the use of military force only after a prescribed period of time in which the U.N. would be given a chance to take control of Assad's chemical weapons." 

*UPDATED at 5:14 PM Tuesday, September 10. We will continue to update as events progress. 

Photo by Presidencia de la República del Ecuador