Switzerland: Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Thursday in Geneva for the beginning of talks over the ongoing crisis in Syria “Expectations are high,” Kerry said. “They’re high for the United States, perhapes even more so for Russia, to deliver on the promises of this moment.”

Martial Trez • Keystone via Associated Press,

Syria: This citizen journalism image, authenticated by other AP reporting, showed damaged buildings on Thursday from heavy fighting in Aleppo.

Aleppo Media Center via Associated Press,

Lebanon: Millions of Syrians, such as this girl in al-Faour, have been displaced. Many live in shelters or camps while others live in parking lots and construction sites.

Nariman El-Mofty • Associated Press,

U.S. demands tests to verify Syria's assent to arms treaty

  • New York Times
  • September 12, 2013 - 10:30 PM

– U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and a team of U.S. arms control experts began talks with Russian counterparts Thursday on a plan to secure and dispose of Syria’s chemical weapons, and he set an early test for Syria’s top leader by insisting on quick disclosure of all data on the Syrian arsenal.

In a joint appearance before their talks Thursday evening, Kerry and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said they were serious about pursuing a diplomatic solution to the chemical weapons crisis provoked by the apparent use of those munitions in a mass killing last month in a Damascus suburb.

The United States has blamed President Bashar Assad of Syria for that attack but has delayed a punitive military strike following the disposal plan put forward by Russia, the Syrian government’s most important backer. Russia has defended Assad, suggested that the rebels seeking to topple him were responsible, and warned that a U.S. military strike would only create more instability in the Middle East.

“Expectations are high,” Kerry said. “They’re high for the United States, perhaps even more so for Russia, to deliver on the promise of this moment.”

The meeting began hours after Assad announced for the first time that he had endorsed the Russian disposal plan and had formally applied for Syrian membership in the chemical weapons treaty, which gives him 30 days to declare his stockpiles of banned munitions for sequestering and destruction under international supervision.

‘Diplomacy likes silence’

But Kerry said that the standard procedures were too slow because Assad’s government had used chemical weapons against its own people. “There is nothing standard about this process,” Kerry said. “The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough.”

With a tableau of American and Russian flags behind them, Kerry and Lavrov stood side by side in a public show of joint purpose. But differences quickly re-emerged. Lavrov stressed that the “solution of this problem will remove any need for a strike.”

Kerry emphasized that “only the credible threat of force” had prompted Assad to acknowledge that his nation possessed chemical weapons in the first place and that a military option was needed to ensure that Assad fulfilled his promises.

Lavrov seemed surprised by the length and tone of Kerry’s statement. “I’m not prepared with the extended political statement,” Lavrov said, “Diplomacy likes silence.”

The Geneva meeting began as Assad, in an interview from Damascus broadcast on Russian television, said he was acting solely on the basis of advice from Russia.

“Threats made by the U.S. did not influence our decision to permit monitoring of our chemical weapons by the international community,” Assad said.

A series of tests planned

He also said Syria had begun submitting documents required to join the Convention on Chemical Weapons, the international treaty signed by most countries renouncing the use of chemical munitions. At the United Nations, Farhan Haq, a spokesman, confirmed that it had received a letter from the Syrian government stating its intention to become a treaty member.

U.S. officials said they were planning a series of tests to determine if Moscow and, more important, Assad, were serious about accepting international control of Syria’s huge chemical arsenal.

One test will be the willingness of Russia and Syria to accept “a rapid beginning to international control” that would preclude the Assad government from gaining access to chemical weapons or using them, said a senior State Department official who was traveling on Kerry’s plane to Geneva.

Another test is how much candor Assad is prepared to show about its chemical weapons stocks and production facilities. “There are some specific things that we can ask for, and see if they get delivered very quickly, that will give us an early sense of whether there is reality here or not,” the State Department official said. The Syrian government, the official said, could “declare all of their stockpile quickly.”

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