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AFP

Cameron says "big step forward" if
Syria hands over chemical weapons

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday welcomed a Russian proposal that Syria hand over its chemical weapons to avoid US military action, but warned against the offer being used to distract from the wider conflict.

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had earlier called on the Assad regime to hand over control of its chemical weapons and have them destroyed, a proposal welcomed by his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem.

 

"If that were to be the case it would be hugely welcome," Cameron told lawmakers when asked about the Russian offer.

 

"If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use, under international supervision, clearly that would be a big step forward and should be encouraged."

 

He added: "I think we have to be careful though this is not a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the table.”

 

"But if it is a genuine offer it should be genuinely looked at."

 

The proposal for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons was first aired by US Secretary of State John Kerry in a London news conference Monday, although the American diplomat then appeared to dismiss it out of hand.

 

Asked after talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague if President Bashar al-Assad could avoid US air strikes, Kerry said: "Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week, turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that.

 

"But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously."

 

The British parliament in August voted against taking part in any military action in Syria.

 

Cameron told lawmakers on Monday however that Britain would "lead efforts to get both sides to the table" in Syria, adding that a "political settlement is the only way."

 

He added that it was "hard to think of anyone other than Senator Kerry who has made a greater effort to find a peaceful solution."

If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use, under international supervision, clearly that would be a big step forward and should be encouraged.