- (Photo: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave Syria one week to hand over its chemical weapons after the Middle Eastern country said in a statement on Monday that it "welcomed" Russia's proposal to give up its chemical weapons by putting them into international control, one day before U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the American people on plans for a military strike in the Middle Eastern country.
Kerry said during a press conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday that he would allow Syria one week to give up its chemical weapons, although he has no expectation of the Middle Eastern country doing so, arguing it is "impossible" for Syrian President Bashar Assad to turn over the chemical weapons that he denies he used.
After meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday, Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem said in a statement to reporters that the Middle Eastern country "welcomes" Russia's suggestion that the country turn over its chemical weapons to international control in order to avoid a U.S. military strike.
"During our talks with Foreign Minister Lavrov this morning, he launched an initiative related to chemical weapons. I listened carefully to his statement this evening in regards to that. I declare that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes Russia's initiative, on the basis that the Syrian leadership cares about the lives of our citizens and the security in our country. We are also confident in the wisdom of the Russian government, which is trying to prevent an American aggression against our people," Moallem said in a statement, as reported by CNN.
Earlier on Monday, Russia's Lavrov told reporters that if dismantling Syria's chemical weapons arsenal would prevent a U.S. attack on the Middle Eastern nation, Russia would "immediately" begin working to persuade Syria to do so. The weapons would reportedly be gathered and centralized in internationally-recognized areas where they would then be dismantled.
Lavrov also added on Monday that Russia encourages United Nations chemical weapons experts to complete their investigation of their discoveries at the Damascus site and present their results to the U.N. Security Council. U.N. investigators left the site of the August 21 chemical weapons attack last week after encountering a series of obstacles, including gunfire from unknown assailants while en route to the damaged area.
Syria's pivotal announcement comes as President Obama prepares to address the American people on Tuesday night regarding the U.S. plans for a military strike against Syria. The U.S. is convinced Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is behind the August 21 chemical attack on Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, that left 1,429 dead, although the government has repeatedly claimed its innocence.
Obama spent last week seeking the permission of Congress to back a military strike. The Commander-in-Chief reportedly lobbied members of Congress while attending the G20 economics summit in Russia. The president said in a televised statement Friday, the last day of the summit, that convincing Congress to allow the military strike was proving to be an uphill battle, and he would directly address the nation on Tuesday to argue his case for a U.S. military strike on Syria that would target military installations and not involve U.S. troops on the ground.
NBC's White House correspondent Chuck Todd said in an interview with Matt Lauer of "Today" on Monday that the Obama administration is "very worried" regarding the situation in Syria because of the political damage it may do to the U.S., both internationally and domestically. Many have opposed the U.S.'s involvement in Middle Eastern affairs following the costly U.S. occupation on Afghanistan and Iraq earlier in the 2000's, although President Obama has promised that the limited military strike on Syria would target military installations and not involve the deployment of U.S. troops.
Syria's President Bashar Assad also took his case against a U.S. military strike to the American people on Monday, telling the public via CBS that a military strike would not benefit the U.S. in any way. "So the question they should ask themselves, what do wars give America? Nothing. No political gain. No economic gain. No good reputation. The credibility is at an all-time low. So this war is against the interests of the United States," he said.
Syria's bloody two-year civil war between loyalists to the Bashar Assad regime and rebel fighters has resulted in the death of well over 100,000 people and the displacement of 2 million refuges to other Middle Eastern countries. Christians in the country also continue to suffer persecution, as some rebel fighter factions associate with Islam and seek to make Syria a completely Islamic state.
The predominately Christian area of Maaloula, a small village north of Damascus and controlled by government forces, has been under attack by al-Qaeda linked rebel fighters sporadically since late last week. On Friday, the Syrian government sent reinforcements to the village after rebel factions destroyed two government checkpoints and damaged several Christian churches before withdrawing from the area late Thursday night.
The rebel fighters then re-entered the historically rich city on Monday, and although the Syrian government claims to have maintained control of the strategic village, journalists in the area argue that rebel forces have a definite hold on the small town. The mountain area proves to be a strategic gateway because it serves as the communications and supplies corridor with the Lebanese border. In addition, it houses two of the oldest monasteries in Syria, the Mar Sarkis and Mar Taqla.
As President Obama prepares to address the public regarding the Syrian conflict Tuesday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also speak on the crisis while attending an unrelated event at the White House on Monday. Syria's Moallem added Monday that the country is ready to address all angles to prove the Bashar Assad government was not behind the August 21 attack.