Kerry calls Syria chemical weapons talks 'constructive'


The BBC's Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen on "exceptionally heavy shelling" in Damascus

US Secretary of State John Kerry has described as "constructive" talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on securing Syria's chemical weapons.

The two men began a second day of talks in Geneva by meeting UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Mr Kerry said he hoped a date could be set for wider peace talks on Syria but that "much would depend" on progress on the chemical weapons issue.

The talks are expected to last until Saturday.

The BBC's James Robbins in Geneva says the two powers will work over the next few weeks to try to revive the wider peace talks to end Syria's civil war, but until they reach agreement on the narrower issues of chemical weapons, that feels like a distant prospect.

Chemical weapons plan timeline

5-6 Sep: Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama discuss idea of placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control on sidelines of G20 summit

9 Sep: Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he has urged Syria to hand in chemical weapons and have them destroyed; Syria welcomes plan

10 Sep: Syria's foreign minister makes first public admission of the regime's chemical weapons stockpile; Syria commits to Russian plan. Mr Obama postpones Congress vote on military action and says he will give Russian plan a chance

12 Sep: US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Mr Lavrov in Geneva

13 Sep: Second round of Geneva talks takes place

Washington and its allies accuse the Syrian government of killing hundreds of people in a chemical attack in the Ghouta area of the capital, Damascus, on 21 August. The government denies the allegation, blaming rebels.

On Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said a UN report due out next week on the incident would be "an overwhelming report that chemical weapons were used".

The remit of the report is not to apportion blame and Mr Ban made no comment on that issue.

But he did say that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had "carried out many crimes against humanity".

The BBC's Nick Bryant says Mr Ban appears not to have realised his comments were being broadcast.

Chief chemical weapons inspector Ake Sellstrom confirmed the report had now been completed.

US state department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the US believed the UN report would not assign blame but that it would "reinforce what we have already said" about the Ghouta incident.

In other developments on Friday:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin called Damascus's decision to join the Chemical Weapons Convention "an important step towards the resolution of the Syrian crisis" and said it showed the "serious intention" of President Assad "to follow this path"
  • Syrian rebels said such a move would not stop the killing. Free Syrian Army spokesperson Louay Moqdad told the BBC that Mr Assad still had plenty of conventional weapons at his disposal and was trying to "buy time" with the help of the Russians
  • UN war crimes investigators accused government forces of deliberately targeting hospitals in opposition-controlled areas to use "the denial of medical care as a weapon of war", but said they also had evidence that "some anti-government armed groups have attacked hospitals".
  • Syrian government and pro-government forces summarily killed at least 248 people in al-Bayda and Baniyas on 2-3 May, Human Rights Watch said in a report based on interviews with witnesses
'Deeply committed'

Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov met Mr Brahimi at the UN headquarters in Geneva to discuss his attempts to keep efforts for a peace process on the table.

John Kerry: "We are both deeply concerned about the acts on all sides"

Speaking afterwards at a brief news conference, Mr Kerry said that they planned to meet again on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later in the month to try to set a date for a long-delayed peace conference known as Geneva 2.

He said his talks with Mr Lavrov so far had been "constructive" but progress in New York would depend on "the capacity to have success here in the next hours, days, on the subject of the chemical weapons".

He said both the US and Russia were "deeply committed to a negotiated solution" to the conflict in Syria and he and Mr Lavrov were "working hard to find the common ground to be able to make that happen".

Syria conflict in numbers

  • Two million children have dropped out of school; 3,000 school buildings damaged or destroyed
  • Some 4.25 million people, mostly elderly and children, have abandoned their homes
  • Almost 200,000 living in overcrowded conditions with no clean water

Sources: UN, Reuters

Mr Lavrov said he welcomed the chance to discuss the "longer term goal" of peace in Syria, and that now Syria had joined the Chemical Weapons Convention it was necessary "to design a road which would make sure that this issue is resolved quickly, professionally, as soon as is practical".

The US and Russia have sent large teams to Geneva that include weapons experts as well as diplomats.

If the talks are successful, the US hopes the disarmament process will be agreed in a UN Security Council resolution.

However, Russia regards as unacceptable any resolution backed by military force, or a resolution that blames the Syrian government for chemical attacks.

Moscow has already objected to a draft resolution that would be enforced by Chapter VII of the UN charter, which would in effect sanction the use of force if Syria failed in its obligations.

Russia, supported by China, has blocked three previous draft UN resolutions condemning the Assad government.

UN report

Russia announced its proposal for dealing with the escalating chemical weapons crisis on Monday, as the US Congress was preparing to debate whether to back President Barack Obama's moves towards military strikes.

The UN on Thursday confirmed it had received documents from Syria on joining the Chemical Weapons Convention, a key step in the Russian plan, but did not immediately say if it had accepted the application.

Syria's envoy to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, said that "legally speaking", Syria was now a full member of the convention.

President Assad said data on chemical weapons would start to be passed to the UN in 30 days.

Diplomats say that the UN report on the Ghouta incident could point to who carried out the attack, despite that not being part of its official remit.

The diplomats said the report might not lay explicit blame, but that its factual reporting - based on soil, blood and urine samples, and interviews with doctors and witnesses - could suggest who was responsible.

More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against President Assad began in 2011. Millions of Syrians have been displaced.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I see this Money guy going around, standing up for Kerry and those warmongers in the US. Seriously?
    His basis is that Syrian regime have commited atrocities against their people.

    What about the opposition?
    They are just as bad.
    This isn't good vs bad, it's bad vs bad.

    Leave the Arabs to sort this out themselves, just without the chemical weapons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Putin did the right thing by stepping in, shame on Obama and Cameron (and Hague) for their eagerness to bomb chemical weapons dumps which are likely near civilian areas without a shred of evidence that they were willing to release to the public - if it even exists to begin with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I totally agree. These Middle East countries are not run like the Knebworth parish council. There has to be strict control of disperate religions and ethnicity otherwise it ends up in total chaos like Iraq after Saddam. The Western democracies should not be in such a hurry to export our brand of democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    These events will finally force the US to realise that bombing the hell out of people is no longer the answer. Putin has made the US look foolish with simple logic - take chemical weapons off the Syrians and destroy them. Why didn't Obama or Cameron think of that? As for buying time, Assad should be packing his suitcase for a war crimes tribunal in the Hague. That has to be one of the end goals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    To judge from the many interviews with ordinary Syrians, bombing is the last thing they need, yet still there's the feeling that USA, with Cameron and Hague squeaking in the background, would just love to bomb the country. The wider problem is that those to whom it falls to provide a solution are very small men, obedient to the arms industry and anyone else with a fat wallet. We deserve better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    When the U.S. spends half a trillion dollars on 'black projects' do you really think the U.S. has only the capability of today's "modern technology?" Keep dreaming. I'm betting the U.S. has technology available at its use only seen in sci-fi movies. No one's gonna replace them, sorry Russia and Iran.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Thank You LORD for holding back the 4 winds of strife.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I wonder what happened to the famous american can-do attitude when it came to doing something which excludes military actions?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    If it wasn't for Putin these talks wouldn't even be taking place.

    Putin deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and I suggest he's given Obama's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Every should have democracy, even if it has to be at the point of a gun.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Everyone will be having the usual pops at the States on this, even if Russia have a history of exterminating their own people, had their own war in Afghanistan and edge closer to the dark days of communism the longer Putin remains in charge. But the fact remains the last 60 years would have seen a more violent world without US threat and diplomacy. Airstrikes worked in Libya and are needed now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    we are behind you USA, about 100000 miles, keep your nose out this is not your war or Englands,, its, time this load of grab it all government and the USA ,s started to look after there own ,pensions freezing to death sick people in U.S, can not get health care yet we spend millions on weapons ,as for John Kelly it,s not his son that will die just another name on a wall.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    US and Russia holding talks about Syria... Did anyone think to invite the Syrians? Or will they just do as they're told?

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Instead of threatening war all the time the West should be concentrating on sorting out the human cost of this madness. The West needs to get a grip on itself and realise that democracy is not for everyone and these countries such as Iraq and Syria and Libya, at present, need very strong control by their leaders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    3: it's called the news. if it is too much for you to cope with or beyond your capability to understand it, don't read it.

    4: advertising revenue? It's the BBC.

    Wow! people even troll news stories on chemical weapons talks. The world has gone mad.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Sod talking the best way to deal with this is like men. Good old fashioned first hand battle. Talking is for the weak and feeble. I'm fed up of this country. I've studied middle eastern affairs for longer than most of you have held a BBC online account. #TalkToMe

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    @1 global yawning
    They were laying out the guidelines and both sides starting position. Then both sides had their own separate meeting to work out a strategy, what proposals would be accepted, what would be rejected out of hand, and what would require tough negotiation. I would wager that both of those meetings lasted far longer than an hour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    USA have looked incredibly foolish throughout this last few weeks, the pres, biden and kerry have damaged there credibility. But I feel this had to happen eventually. USA: Your either with us or against us. Rest of the world: Were against you :/

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Does anyone else think the beebs coverage of the Syrian crisis has been a bit scant?
    I mean just think of the advertising revenue they would have gained by opening two or three comment sections a day on this very subject over the past three weeks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Yet another HYS on Syria!...BBC are obsessed.


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