Syria breaks silence on Russia-US chemical weapons deal

Bill Neely

Former International Editor

Bill Neely greets the Syrian Information Minister Oman al-Zoubi. Credit: ITV News

For twenty-four hours after the American-Russian deal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons was sealed, Syria said nothing.

Unusually after a major development there wasn't a word of reaction from Syria's government or its President.

Until its information minister Oman al-Zoubi gave it a guarded welcome. Guarded, because he referred throughout to the "Russian plan" and to the UN resolution that will follow.

This minister wasn't going to welcome, much less agree to, anything with American fingerprints.

But his message, like his intention, was clear.

"Syria has accepted the Russian proposal", he told me, "and will accept anything that comes from the UN Security Council. We will comply."

I asked him repeatedly if he would stick to the strict timetable drawn up by the Russian and American foreign ministers, including handing over a list of weapons within seven days.

"This is for the technical people", he said, "on a political level I can assure you that Syria's decision (to give up chemical weapons) will be honoured. This is a final decision...the rest is only detail, procedural detail and not very important".

The Americans, even the Russians, may take exception to that. The devil is in the detail of this deal.

But he says Syria is already complying. It has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and he said: "We are already documenting our papers and we have started to do our job. We don't waste time".

Asked twice if he could guarantee that inspectors would have full access to all chemical weapons sites in Syria, he said "absolutely".

He said the rebels (or "armed groups" and "terrorists" as Syria's ministers prefer to call them) should be pressured to do the same.

As for John Kerry's remark that there must be "no games", he said: "Syria also doesn't want to see games...these are serious issues". So, Syria says it will do what it has promised to do. No-one will trust Syria until it starts delivering on those promises, delivering lists of weapons and eventually weapons to be destroyed.

But Syria is painting its agreement to the deal as a victory.

"We welcome the agreement", Syria's Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar told a Russian news agency.

"On the one hand, it helps Syria come out of the crisis and, on the other, it helps avoid the war against Syria depriving those who wanted to launch it of arguments to do so. It's a victory for Syria achieved thanks to our Russian friends."

But not their American ones, who agreed the deal jointly. You won't find any Syrian minister, much less President Assad, saying that.