Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have praised the Syrian government’s decision to join an international anti-chemical-weapons pact.
“I would like to hope that it will become an important step in dealing with the crisis,” said Putin who was attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Kyrgyzstan on Friday. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who was also in attendance, echoed Putin’s sentiments.
Syria announced to the U.N. on Thursday that it had signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which stipulates that signatories must destroy their stockpiles.
“Legally speaking Syria has become, starting today, a full member of the convention,” Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told reporters in New York on Thursday.
In Geneva on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov entered their second day of talks — along with the U.N.’s special representative on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi — in an attempt to forge a deal that will see Syria surrender its chemical weapons and prevent a U.S. military strike. Kerry rejected an initial proposal from his Russian counterpart that would have given the Syrian government a month’s grace before it was required to handover data on its stockpile.
“The words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough,” Kerry said.
While Damascus continues to make conciliatory gestures regarding its illicit arsenal, elite forces loyal to Assad are reportedly dispersing the government’s chemical weapons across the country. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Assad’s elite Unit 450 “has been moving stocks of poison gases and munitions to as many as 50 sites to make them harder for the U.S. to track.”
The news coincides with reports that Saudi Arabia is increasing its delivery of small arms and anti-tank guided missiles to rebel militias. According to the New York Times, the fresh supplies were initially aimed to coincide with U.S. military strikes so that opposition forces could take advantage of American air cover and assault pro-Assad strongholds.
Meanwhile, on Friday afternoon international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a new report accusing pro-Assad forces of summarily executing 248 people in the towns of al-Bayda and Baniyas last May.
“While the world’s attention is on ensuring that Syria’s government can no longer use chemical weapons against its population, we shouldn’t forget that Syrian government forces have used conventional means to slaughter civilians,” said HRW’s Joe Stork.
“As the U.S. and Russia negotiate over Syria’s chemical weapons, they should remember that for the victim and their relatives, the method of killing is secondary.”
Both Pro-Assad forces and rebel militias have been accused of carrying out summary executions. Nevertheless, according to a U.N. commission’s tally published earlier this week, forces loyal to Bashar Assad have been responsible for eight massacres, while rebel outfits have been blamed for one.