UK & World News
Syria: Weapons Plan Faces 'Immense' Challenges
Syrian President Bashar al Assad has said his country's decision to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal was not the result of threatened US air strikes.
"Syria is placing its chemical weapons under international control because of Russia," the Interfax news agency quoted him as telling TV channel Rossiya-24. "The US threats did not influence the decision."
It came after US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva for two days of high-stakes talks on a Russian proposal to ensure Syria follows through with its pledge.
Earlier, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the plan faced "immense practical difficulties", although obstacles could be overcome "with sufficient international unity and goodwill".
He warned the initiative would require a "complete change of approach" by the Assad regime to its "past practices and deceptions".
"It would require the genuine cooperation of a regime that denied until recently it possessed these chemical weapons and has used them ruthlessly against its own people on at least 14 occasions," he said.
"The regime has a large number of sites and possibly the largest stock of chemical weapons of any nation in the world.
"We would need to have confidence that all chemical weapons had been identified and secured and that they could not fall into the wrong hands."
Mr Kerry is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as US diplomats push for a timescale for Syria to count its weapons stock.
One official admitted they face a "doable but difficult" task.
The Russian plan was met with a "definitive rejection" by Salim Idriss, head of the rebel Supreme Military Council, while Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the Syrian regime had "won time for new massacres".
The talks between Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov come after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that a US attack on Syria without UN approval would result in more innocent victims and an escalation in violence in the Middle East.
Writing in the New York Times, he said there "every reason to believe" it was rebel forces, not the Assad regime, who used sarin nerve gas in an attack in Damascus on August 21.
He said a strike would "increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism" and claimed America would increasingly be seen "not as a model for democracy but as relying solely on brute force".
However, Dr Anna Neistat, an associate director of Human Rights Watch, said: "There is not a single mention in Mr Putin's article ... of the egregious crimes committed by the Syrian government ... (including) deliberate and indiscriminate killings of tens of thousands of civilians, executions, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests."
Mr Putin's warning came a day after US President Barack Obama postponed a threat to strike Syria after the Assad regime welcomed the Russian plan to gather and destroy its chemical weapons.
In an address from the White House on Tuesday, Mr Obama said: "This initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies."
Mr Obama also said no military force would be used until after UN weapons inspectors had delivered their report into what happened in Damascus.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the report would "probably" be published on Monday and claimed evidence would point towards a "chemical massacre".