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Syria signs on to global anti-chemical weapon -

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TIM PALMER: In a move which just a few days ago was unthinkable, Syria's president Bashar al-Assad has appeared on Russian television to confirm he will hand over control of his country's chemical weapons arsenal.

The United Nations has just confirmed it has received documents from Syria, which the country's UN envoy says "legally speaking" makes Syria a full member of the global anti-chemical weapons treaty.

But the Syrian pledge comes with conditions which are not to the Americans' liking.

Europe correspondent Barbara Miller reports.

BARBARA MILLER: It's the first time Bashar al-Assad is thought to have publicly acknowledged what everyone knew anyway - that his country holds stockpiles of chemical weapons.

Now in response to a Russian-led initiative the Syrian president says he's ready to join the global anti-chemical weapons treaty and supply data on the stockpiles, the first steps towards ceding control of them.

But the proposal comes with conditions.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD: I want to say this clearly for everybody: this will not happen unilaterally. Syria will not sign all the documents, fulfil the requirements and that's all. It's a two-sided process. It's based firstly on America stopping its threats to Syria and also on the extent to which the Russian proposal will be fulfilled.

When we see that the US wants stability in our region, and stops threatening us and preparing for a strike, and also stops supplying terrorists with weapons, then we'll be able to finalise all the necessary processes and they'll be acceptable from a Syrian point of view.

BARBARA MILLER: The United Nations has since confirmed that it has received a document from Syria on joining the anti-chemical weapons treaty.

President Assad says Syria will begin supplying data on the stockpiles one month after signing the treaty, as, he says, is standard practice.

The US secretary of state John Kerry says that's not good enough.

JOHN KERRY: I have seen reports that the Syrian regime has suggested that as part of the standard process they ought to have 30 days to submit data on their technical, on their chemical weapons stockpile. We believe there is nothing standard about this process at this moment.

BARBARA MILLER: John Kerry was speaking in Geneva where he's holding talks with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Kerry also rejected Bashar al-Assad's other key condition, that the threat of a US military strike be removed.

JOHN KERRY: President Obama has made clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to defer and degrade Assad's capacity to deliver these weapons. It won't get rid of them, but it could change his willingness to use them.

BARBARA MILLER: Despite the clear difficulties facing them, John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov appeared in good humour going into their meeting. At one point when Mr Kerry failed to hear the Russian translation, they even teased one another.


SERGEI LAVROV: It was OK John, don't worry.


JOHN KERRY: (Laughing) You want me to take your word for it?

TRANSLATOR: Yes, hello?

JOHN KERRY: It's a little early for that.

BARBARA MILLER: The talks are expected to last for at least two days. As the men get down to the business, there's likely to be little to laugh about.

This is Barbara Miller reporting for AM.