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Eliminating Syria's chemical weapons would be -

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TIM PALMER: If the Russian plan to eliminate Syria's chemical arsenal was to proceed it would be a fiendishly complex task in a country consumed by civil war, as Middle East correspondent Matt Brown reports from Beirut.

MATT BROWN: It is a tantalising promise: to eliminate potent weapons in the hands of one of the most potent American and Israeli foes in the region, and in the process eliminate the chance that extremists from Al Qaeda linked groups like Jabhat al-Nusra could get their hands on the stockpiles.

And Russia says it’s working on a plan to deliver on that promise.

(Sound of Sergey Lavrov speaking)

Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says, "We the Russian side are currently doing exactly that - preparing an effective, concise, concrete plan. To do this literally in these very minutes, contacts with the Syrians are under way."

The former Soviet Union helped Syria build its chemical weapons and Russia remains the supplier of its most lethal hardware. So if the Russians and the Syrians are sincere, this plan could work.

But just as an American strike could affect the balance of power on the battlefield of Syria's civil war, so too could a program to eliminate the chemical weapons because Syria is thought to have a substantial stockpile and it would take an intense effort from the UN's chemical weapons experts, over months if not years, to gather them, verify them and then perhaps destroy them.

If that requires a ceasefire, it would be a major, perhaps game-changing pause in proceedings. It might open the way for a peace deal or allow one side or the other to simply strengthen its hand, free of the burdens of battle.

For now it's the Opposition that clearly feels it has the most to lose.

(Sound of Bard Jamous speaking)

Badr Jamous, secretary general of the Syrian National Coalition, says, "The latest proposal from Lavrov fails to place responsibility on the Assad regime for killing innocent people. We say that respecting international law requires a response from the international community."

But a program to eliminate its chemical weapons would also be a major distraction for the Syrian government, whether there's a ceasefire or not. And in the end, Bashar al-Assad would be giving up his most powerful strategic weapons, while his arch rival Israel retains its presumed nuclear arsenal and a far superior military force.

It's an offer so good it might not be true, but it's one the US can't afford to ignore.

This is Matt Brown in Beirut for AM.