Syria vows to surrender chemical weapons

Syria accepted a Russian proposal on Tuesday to give up its chemical weapons.

An image released by the Local Committee of Arbeen shows the bodies of children after Syrian rebels claim they were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta. Picture: AFP/Local Committee of Arbeen

WASHINGTON - Syria accepted a Russian proposal on Tuesday to give up chemical weapons and win a reprieve from US military strikes but serious differences emerged between Russia and the United States that could obstruct a UN resolution to seal a deal.

In a televised address to Americans on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama will pledge to explore Russia's proposal for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons to international control, while expressing scepticism about the initiative, an administration official said.

Even as the White House said it was determined to push ahead with a congressional resolution authorizing force, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the weapons plan would only succeed if Washington and its allies rule out military action.

In what amounted to the most explicit, high-level admission by Syria that it has chemical weapons, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in a statement shown on Russian state television that Damascus was committed to the Russian initiative.

"We want to join the convention on the prohibition of chemical weapons. We are ready to observe our obligations in accordance with that convention, including providing all information about these weapons," Moualem said.

"We are ready to declare the location of the chemical weapons, stop production of the chemical weapons, and show these (production) facilities to representatives of Russia and other United Nations member states," he said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington believes the proposal must be endorsed by the UN Security Council "in order to have the confidence that this has the force it ought to have."

Moscow has previously vetoed three resolutions that would have condemned the Syrian government over the conflict.

The latest proposal "can work only if we hear that the American side and all those who support the United States in this sense reject the use of force," Putin said in televised remarks.

In his TV address, which was scheduled before the Russian proposal emerged, Obama will press his argument that it is in America's national security interests for Syria to face consequences for using chemical weapons, the administration official said.

Kerry and US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress the threat of military action was critical to forcing Assad to bend on his chemical weapons.

The United States and its allies remain sceptical about the Russian proposal and Obama sought to keep the pressure on Syria by maintaining his drive for congressional backing for a possible military strike while exploring a diplomatic alternative.

At the United Nations, Britain, France and the United States discussed elements of a draft Security Council resolution that a diplomat from one of the three countries said would include a timeline for Syria to declare the full extent of its poison gas arsenal and to cede control of it to the United Nations.

The Syrian war has already killed more than 100,000 people and driven millions from their homes. It threatens to spread violence across the Middle East, with countries endorsing the sectarian divisions that brought civil war to Lebanon and Iran.