Kerry: Assad could prevent strike by turning over chemical weapons
The US secretary of State also added that the Syrian president 'isn't about to do that'
US secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad could resolve the crisis surrounding a chemical weapons attack on his citizens simply by turning over "every single bit" of his weapons stock to the international community within a week.
But Kerry, holding a news conference in London with British counterpart William Hague, added that he thinks Assad "isn't about to do that. We know that his regime gave orders to prepare for a chemical attack. We know they deployed forces."
The United Nations also reiterated Assad's use of chemical weapons. The UN human rights chief has told the 47-nation Human Rights Council that there is little doubt that chemical weapons were used in Syria, but she did not say which of the combatants was suspected of using them. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay opened the council's month-long session telling diplomats that "all the circumstances and responsibilities remain to be clarified." She added that the use of chemical weapons is "one of the gravest crimes that can be committed."
Iran and Syria agree with the US
The US keeps on insisting that a military strike is the only effective measure against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Iran and Russia have other ideas. Assad's two closest allies are reportedly promoting a proposal for a diplomatic compromise that could prevent such an attack.
Reports in the Arab and Iranian media say Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem is expected to present the proposal to Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two meet later today. The proposal reportedly includes a plan for a democratic transfer of power in stages.
According to reports on Monday in the Israeli daily Haaretz, the details of such a proposal are not known. However, it was discussed by Ala Al-Din Boroujerdi, the chairman of Iran's Parliamentary Committee for National Security and Foreign Policy and his Syrian partners a few days ago.
In another proposal, which was reported in Haaretz last week, Syria will agree to completely remove its inventory of chemical weapons from the country and transfer it to Russia or another country. This proposal is also expected to be discussed in the meeting between Putin and al-Muallem.
Meanwhile, two British RAF jets were launched from their base in Cyprus in response to a sighting of Syrian planes that had crossed into international airspace, reported the London Daily Mail on Monday.
The British Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed that last Monday two unidentified planes crossed into Cypriot skies from the east of the country. According to the reports, the Syrian planes retreated before the British Typhoons took any action.
A pair of Turkish F-16s are also believed to have been launched from their base in Incirlik, Turkey.
The Syrian planes are believed to have been Russian-made Sukhoi Su-24s, heavily-armed fighter bombers that can reach Cyprus, 321 kilometers from Syria, in just 15 minutes.
A spokesman for the MoD said: "The MoD can confirm that Typhoon Air Defense Aircraft operated from RAF Akrotiri on Monday to investigate unidentified aircraft to the east of Cyprus; the aircraft were flying legally in international airspace and no intercept was required."
Akrotiri is one of Britain's largest overseas bases and is home to more than 1,300 personnel. It is used by the RAF as a base for overseas operations in the Middle East and for training.
Waiting for Congress
Meanwhile, all eyes were turning to Washington, where Congress is returning to session on Monday after its summer break and is expected to hold its first votes authorizing limited strikes into Syria as soon as Wednesday. President Barack Obama will make appear on an unprecedented six number of tv outlets to argue that the United States needs to remind hostile nations such as Iran and North Korea of American military might, while working to reassure the nation that the lessons of the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan were fresh in their minds.
"It is not Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya," White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday, during one of his five network television interviews. "This is a very concerned, concentrated, limited effort that we can carry out and that can underscore and secure our interests."
Top administration officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power plan to brief lawmakers ahead of the Wednesday vote on a resolution authorizing the "limited and specified use" of US armed forces against Syria for no more than 90 days, reported the Associated Press.
The UN human rights chief has told the 47-nation Human Rights Council that there is little doubt that chemical weapons were used in Syria, but she did not say which of the combatants was suspected of using them.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay opened the council's month-long session telling diplomats that "all the circumstances and responsibilities remain to be clarified." She added that the use of chemical weapons is "one of the gravest crimes that can be committed."
The Geneva-based council is due to receive an update Wednesday from its panel probing for war crimes and other human rights abuses in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons.