MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that he and U.S. President Barack Obama had agreed at talks last week to step up efforts to safeguard Syria’s chemical weapons and discussed placing the arsenal under international control.
Putin’s remarks may deepen speculation about the genesis of a Russian proposal for Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control in order to avert possible U.S. military strikes.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the proposal on Monday, hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Syria could avoid a U.S. strike by surrendering all its chemical weapons within a week.
Although Kerry’s comments indicated he was not making a serious offer, the White House and the Kremlin both said the Russian proposal was not entirely new and that Obama and Putin had discussed the principles behind it in the past.
Putin’s spokesman said earlier on Tuesday that it came up when the presidents met on Friday on the sidelines of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg, and Putin elaborated on that in his televised comments.
“Russia’s position ... is well known - we are against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction of any kind - chemical and nuclear weapons,” Putin said.
“In the current circumstances in Syria this is really taking on special importance, and the U.S. president and I really did discuss it on the sidelines of the G20 summit.”
“By the way, this issue has repeatedly been discussed by both experts and politicians - the question of placing Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. I repeat, the U.S. president and I discussed this theme on the sidelines of the G20.”
“We agreed that we would step up this work, intensify it and instruct the (U.S) secretary of state and the Russian foreign minister to ... enter into contact and together try to advance a solution to this question,” he said.
U.S. officials said Kerry will meet Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons.
Kerry said earlier on Tuesday that Lavrov was expected to send him Russia’s proposals on securing Syria’s chemical weapons for review by the Obama administration.
Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Mike Collett-White