Syria announced on Thursday that it has started becoming a full member of the global anti-chemical weapons treaty, the country's UN envoy said, a move that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had promised as part of a Russian plan to avoid U.S. air strikes, Reuters reported.
"Legally speaking Syria has become, starting today, a full member of the (chemical weapons) convention," Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters in New York after submitting relevant documents to the United Nations.
According to the Chemical Weapons Convention, a country does not become a full member of the treaty until 30 days after its accession or ratification documents are deposited with the United Nations.
Syria was one of only seven countries not to have joined the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which commits members to destroying their stockpiles.
Ja'fari said Assad signed a legislative decree on Thursday that "declared the Syrian Arab Republic approval to accede to the convention." He said Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem had written to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to notify it of Syria's decision to join the convention.
"The chemical weapons in Syria are a mere deterrence against the Israeli nuclear arsenal," Ja'afari said as he waved a document he said was a CIA report on Israel's chemical weapons program.
"It's a deterrent weapon and now the time has come for the Syrian government to join the (convention) as a gesture to show our willingness to be against all weapons of mass destruction," he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's press office confirmed receipt of a letter from Syria that said Damascus would immediately begin complying with the terms of the treaty.
"In their letter, the Syrian authorities have expressed their commitment to observe the obligations entailed by the Convention even before its entry into force for Syria," it said in a statement.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters earlier on Thursday that the United Nations had received an "accession document" from Syria that was currently being studied and translated.
Damascus’ move to formally apply to join the global ban was welcomed on Friday by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He called it "an important step towards the resolution of the Syrian crisis" and added: "This confirms the serious intention of our Syrian partners to follow this path."
China, too, hailed Assad's decision.
China's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it welcomed a decision by Syria to join the global anti-chemical weapons treaty.
U.S., Russian try to narrow differences on Syria
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have agreed to meet later this month to try to set a date for a long-delayed peace conference for Syria.
"We both agreed ... to meet again in New York around the time of the UN General Assembly around the 28th in order to see if it is possible then to find a date for that conference," Kerry told reporters on Friday at a joint press briefing in Geneva with Lavrov and UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, Al Jazeera reported.
After meeting Brahimi in Geneva, where they are trying to confirm a Russian plan to remove Syria's chemical weapons and avert US military action, Lavrov and Kerry said they agreed to try and make progress on a broader effort to end a conflict that has divided the Middle East and world powers.
"We are committed to trying to work together, beginning with this initiative on the chemical weapons, in hopes that those efforts could pay off and bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world," Kerry told the news briefing.
Brahimi said working to remove chemical weapons from Syria would form an important element in efforts to hold new peace talks, following an earlier failed attempt at Geneva last year.
A spokesman for Lavrov said he and Kerry had had a comprehensive meeting, where they outlined "the logistics, process and agenda for the days ahead and they agreed on a shared goal of achieving a framework for the path forward. The entire delegation will reconvene tomorrow morning."
Syrian government is accused by the U.S. of killing 1,429 people in a chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21, and threatens military strikes if a diplomatic solution to the crisis is not found.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies his government was responsible for the attack, and pins the blame on rebel forces. Russia, Assad's ally, also says there is no proof that Assad ordered the attack and is opposed to any military intervention.
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