REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA NovostiOn Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Syria could avoid an American attack by turning over " every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. "
Russia immediately jumped on the offer, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow will urge Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control in a bid to avert military intervention.
This is a deft political move on Russia's part, especially since the State Department immediately walked back Kerry's comments by saying that he " was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used. "
The Wall Street Journal's Tom Gara observes that Russia is capitalizing on a "silly Kerry mistake," since even though Assad would never turn over chemical weapons, beginning such a process would serve an ideal delay to any U.S. decision to attack Syria.
On Sunday, Assad denied using chemical weapons on his own people and would not confirm or deny that his government even has chemical-weapons stockpiles.
Russia's announcement further muddies the situation for an American administration that is struggling to convince Congress and the country to back a military strike on Syria.
And it seems to be having its intended effect: A bunch of news outlets are reporting Russia's move, and WSJ called it " a rare sign of apparent agreement between Moscow and Washington. "
The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, now says it will "take a hard look" at Russsia proposal but remain skeptical.
Interpreter Magazine Editor-in-Chief Michael Weiss summed up the situation perfectly: " Kerry says give up CW. Assad says what CW? Russia says those CW, give em up but not really. Syria says oh, right--good one, bolshoe spasibo" (i.e., " Thank you very much ").
The atmosphere does not bode well for President Obama's Syria media blitz on Monday night, which will be flanked by an interview of Assad on PBS.
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