White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday declined to lay out a timetable for the administration's pursuit of a Russian-brokered diplomatic solution to securing Syria's chemical weapons.
“I don't have a timeline to give you,” Carney said. “What I can say is that it obviously will take some time."
“There are technical aspects involved in developing a plan for securing Syria's chemical weapons and verifying their locations and putting them under international control,” he added.
Secretary of State John Kerry will be traveling to Geneva Thursday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the process of gathering and degrading Syria's chemical weapons.
The U.S. and the Russians will each bring a team of technical chemical weapons experts to “evaluate the proposal and assess the paths forward,” Carney said.
“But we are not interested in delaying tactics, and we believe it's very important to hold [Syrian President Bashar] Assad accountable,” he added.
The White House is pressing for action against Assad, accusing him of using chemical weapons in an attack on civilians last month.
President Obama has pressed lawmakers to give him authorization to strike Syria, but in an address to the nation Tuesday night said he would take time to find a “peaceful solutions” and pursue a Russian offer to have Damascus turn over its chemical weapons to international observers.
Carney said that the offer from Russia was obtained only because of the president’s threat to use military force against Syria.
The president’s handling of Syria though has faced sharp criticism and before the Russian offer the administration was struggling to win support in both chambers of Congress.
Obama’s speech Tuesday night presented a challenge for the administration, as the president sought to build support for striking Syria while also holding the door open for a last ditch diplomatic effort.
Carney said the president never considered canceling his address to the nation even as he considered the new Russian proposal.
Representatives from the U.S., and the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, are meeting Wednesday afternoon to draft a resolution laying out conditions for Syria to turn over its chemical arsenal.
Experts say disarming Syria of chemical weapons will be a complex operation that could take months, if not years to complete and would be made even more difficult by the country's violent civil war.
U.S. officials have repeatedly said that intelligence agencies know where Syria's chemical weapons are located, but U.N. inspectors would still need to rely on Assad's top lieutenants to disclose the location of many development and production facilities.
International inspectors would also need armed protection while they collected the weapons and supplies in the middle of a violent armed rebellion in the country and threats from extremist groups.
The weapons inspection process is also difficult to assess on foreign turf. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein's government kept inspectors guessing about its weapons supplies for years, as it shifted supplies and stockpiles to different locations and potentially even transferring them out of Iraq and into Syria or other neighboring countries.
It was only after the 2003 invasion of Baghdad, that the U.S. discovered that Hussein no longer held ready chemical weapons at his immediate disposal.