Iran on Tuesday said it is supporting Russia’s proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles under international control. China has also signed onto the initiative, while Israel is voicing skepticism.
President Barack Obama said Monday he would “absolutely” halt plans for a U.S. military strike if the chemical weapons were secured, but at the same time voiced skepticism about Syrian President Bashar Assad’s willingness to implement any deal.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran favors that initiative and we find this to be within the framework of putting a halt to militarism in the region," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said at a press conference carried live on state television, Reuters reported.
This came as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a Tuesday briefing, "We welcome and support the Russian proposal," adding "the international community ought to give it positive consideration."
But Israeli leaders are voicing skepticism about Assad’s intentions.
"It is not yet time to pop the champagne," an unnamed senior Israeli diplomatic official told Army Radio.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said the "Syrians proved they are not credible and that their integrity should not be trusted."
"When you see dead children after being gassed one cannot stand idly by. President Obama is taking the right steps," Peres said, according to Israel Hayom.
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Avigdor Liberman warned that the Russian plan is buying Assad time.
“Assad is winning time and lots of it,” he told Israel Radio on Tuesday.
He compared the Syrian conflict with Israel’s challenges regarding Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons, specifically the notion that stalling tactics and drawn out negotiations could avert an international military crackdown.
Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, who has been described as a “moderate,” on Tuesday suggested his approach to his country’s nuclear program has not changed since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad completed his term in office.
Iran will not give up "one iota" of its nuclear rights, Rowhani said in a speech to clerics, according to the Mehr news agency.
"Our government will not give up one iota of its absolute rights" on its nuclear program, Rowhani said, according to AFP, echoing his predecessor Ahmadinejad.
On the Syrian issue, the Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman warned against any arrangement that would leave chemical weapons in the hands of Syrian rebels.
"There are concerns regarding possession of an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists," Afkham said. "We think that any kind of initiative should actually cover terrorists."
Iran is a strong supporter Assad and regularly refers to rebels fighting his forces “terrorists.” It does not, however, refer to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group it supports, as terrorists. Hezbollah has sent its recruits to Syria to fight alongside Assad's forces.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that if Syria handed its chemical weapons to international monitors and agreed to ultimately destroy its arsenal, it could avoid an American attack.
Obama addressed the proposal during his string of interviews on Monday.
"This could potentially be a significant breakthrough," Obama said on NBC News. "But we have to be skeptical because this is not how we've seen them operate over the last couple of years."
“My objective here has always been to deal with a very specific problem,” Obama told ABC News. “If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference.”
The Syrian government on Monday quickly welcomed the Russian proposal aimed at averting a U.S. military strike.
It is unclear if its support of Moscow’s proposal is genuine or a delaying tactic.