Syria welcomes Russia's chemical arms handover initiative

MOSCOW (AFP) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's foreign minister on Monday said he welcomed Russia's proposal that Damascus hand over control of its chemical weapons arsenal to international supervision to avoid US military action.

"I carefully listened to (Russian foreign minister) Sergei Lavrov's statement about it. In connection with this, I note that Syria welcomes the Russian initiative based on the Syrian leadership's concern about the lives of our nationals and the security of our country," Mr Walid al-Muallem said in comments carried by Russian state news agency ITAR-Tass.

“We also hail the wisdom of the Russian leadership which is trying to prevent an American aggression against our people,” he added without elaborating.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had earlier on Monday called on the Syrian regime to hand over control of its chemical weapons arsenal to international supervision as a way of staving off the threat of military action.

As well as handing over the weapons and having them destroyed, Syria should also become a full member of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Mr Lavrov added.

His comments came after US Secretary of State John Kerry said President Bashar al-Assad could turn over his chemical weapons to have a chance of avoiding military action.

"Turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting for that," Mr Kerry told reporters in London earlier Monday. "But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done."

UN leader Ban Ki-moon on Monday also called for the creation of UN supervised zones in Syria where the country's chemical weapons can be destroyed.

Mr Ban told reporters he may propose the zones to the UN Security Council if UN inspectors confirm the use of the banned weapons and in a bid to overcome the 15-nation council's "embarrassing paralysis" over the Syria conflict.