LONDON – The European Union added its collective voice Tuesday to the growing chorus expressing support of a diplomatic push to have Syria surrender its chemical weapons as a way to forestall a U.S.-led military strike.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top diplomat, said she welcomed the Russian-backed proposal to put Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons under the control of international inspectors and out of reach of both President Bashar Assad’s security forces and the rebels, including Islamic militants, who are trying to topple him.
“This now needs to be fully worked up as quickly as possible, including the details of its implications in terms of safe storage, verification and destruction” of the arsenal, Ashton said in a statement. “The EU stands ready to fully support any proposal and its implementation.”
She called on Damascus to sign up to the international convention prohibiting use of chemical and biological warfare.
Support from the EU, whose members include 28 nations, added to the diplomatic momentum behind an idea that began as almost an offhand comment by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry in London on Monday. Moscow quickly seized on the idea of putting Syria’s chemical stockpile under international supervision, and France – among the most vocal supporters of an armed reprisal against Assad’s government – said Tuesday that it would introduce a resolution at the United Nations calling for the same.
The prospect of an imminent military strike on Syria has rapidly morphed into a multilateral drive to avert it, though officials in many countries question the sincerity and practicability of the Russian initiative.
"What’s important is to make sure this isn’t some delay tactic, that this isn’t some ruse," British Prime Minister David Cameron told lawmakers Tuesday.
"If this is a serious proposal, then we should act accordingly, and I think a U.N. Security Council resolution is a good idea. In that resolution I think it’s quite important that we have some clarity about thresholds. We need to know that there’s a proper timetable for doing this. We need to know that there’s a proper process for doing it and, crucially, there would have to be consequences if it wasn’t done."
Among the challenges would be to prevent others from grabbing hold of the chemical weapons.
“We look to the Syrian authorities to take full responsibility for ensuring that their chemical weapons are stored securely pending independently verified destruction and are not permitted to fall into the hands of any other state or non-state actor,” Ashton said.