Russia offers four step plan for Syria arms handover: Report

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia has handed the United States a plan for the Syrian regime to hand over its chemical weapons in four stages, starting with Damascus becoming a member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a report said on Thursday.

The plan, first announced by Moscow this week, aims to avert threatened US military action in retribution for a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that the West says was perpetrated by the Syrian regime.

Revealing the details of the plan for the first time, Russia's Kommersant daily said it had been given to the American side on Tuesday, although Russia only announced on Wednesday evening that the plan had been passed on.

Speaking in the Kazakh capital Astana, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not give details of the plan but said it would work "on the understanding that" it would allow force not to be used.

As a first step, Damascus would join the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Kommersant said, quoting a Russian diplomatic source.

Then Syria would have to declare the location of the chemical weapons arsenals and where they are made. The third step would be allowing OPCW inspectors into Syria to examine them.

The fourth and final step would be deciding, in cooperation with the inspectors, how to destroy the weapons.

Kommersant, which is known for its strong foreign ministry sources, said that who would physically destroy the weapons has yet to be decided but it was not excluded that the United States and Russia could do this jointly.

Mr Lavrov and US counterpart John Kerry are due to discuss the plan in Geneva in talks on Thursday.

The top Russian diplomat said on a visit to the Kazakh capital before heading to Geneva that both Russia and the United States would be taking experts on chemical weapons to the talks.

He said Syria should join the OPCW "which will involve Syria announcing the location of its chemical weapons and disclosing its chemical programme."

"We will discuss in Geneva this initiative... on putting Syrian chemical weapons under international control on the understanding that it will allow the rejection of the use of force on Syria," he said, quoted by Russian news agencies.

Mr Lavrov said he did not rule out UN-Arab League Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi joining the talks in Geneva to discuss a stalled US-Russian initiative for a peace conference in the Swiss city.

Kommersant said that it was the American side who requested the talks after receiving a copy of the details of the Russian plan.