U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that prospects for a resumption in the Syrian peace process are riding on the outcome of U.S.-Russian talks aimed at securing Syria's chemical weapons arsenal that lurched into a second day.
As American and Russian chemical weapons experts huddled in a Geneva hotel to haggle over technical details that will be critical to reach a deal, Kerry and Lavrov met a distance away with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakdar Brahimi to examine political developments and plot a new international conference to support the creation of Syrian transitional government.
Kerry, flanked by Lavrov and Brahimi, told reporters at the U.N. in Geneva after an hour-long meeting that the chances for a second peace conference in Geneva "will obviously depend on the capacity to have success here ... on the subject of the chemical weapons."
Kerry and his Russian counterpart began talks Thursday on a Russian proposal to secure Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. Kerry said that American patience with the proposal, aimed at heading off U.S. military action, is limited.
"Expectations are high," Kerry said in a joint appearance with Lavrov. "They are high for the United States, and perhaps even more so for the Russians, to deliver on the promise of this moment. This is not a game, and I said this to my friend Sergey, when we talked about this initially."
Kerry also rejected Assad's suggestion — which the Syrian president made in a television interview that aired Thursday — that he would begin submitting data on his chemical weapons arsenal one month after signing an international chemical weapons ban. Assad claimed that the 30-day lead time would be standard. The Syrians also formally informed the United Nations on Thursday that they wished to join an international chemical weapons ban treaty.
"There is nothing standard about this process," Kerry said. "The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough."
Kerry reiterated that President Obama could still order a U.S. military strike if the Russian proposal is unsuccessful and Assad doesn't dismantle his chemical weapons arsenal.
"There ought to be consequences if it doesn't take place," he said.
Lavrov, who spoke briefly before Kerry, appeared surprised by the length, and perhaps, the substance of Kerry's remarks.
"I'm not prepared with an extended political statement," Lavrov said after Kerry's remarks. "Diplomacy likes silence."
The Russians are insistent that the U.S. and other United Nations Security Council members agree to end any threat of a U.S. military strike — something that Obama is unlikely to agree to.
But the two sides may look to get around their differences by building an ambiguously worded resolution that would leave plenty of room for interpretation, said Jim Walsh, a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's security studies program.
"It will be vague," Walsh said. "It will be watered down in the areas where both sides agree to disagree and leave it to interpretation. But the U.S. is not going to (formally) forfeit the option to strike."