WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State John Kerry may not have been speaking completely off the cuff on Monday when he said Syria could turn its chemical weapons over to the international community in order to avert a U.S. strike. In fact, the proposal appears to have been long in the making, pre-dating the horrific chemical attack in Damascus in late August.
Speaking in London on Monday, Kerry surprised the world when he said Syria could hand over its entire stockpile of chemical weapons in one week in order to avoid a U.S. attack. It was still more surprising when Russia and Syria quickly backed the idea, as did officials at the United Nations.
The State Department responded that Kerry had simply been making "a rhetorical argument."
While it's not clear whether Kerry had planned in advance to make that remark on Monday, the concept had been first proposed more than a year earlier.
"This wasn't an accident," a top White House official told The Huffington Post.
A senior administration official confirmed to The Huffington Post that President Barack Obama and Putin first discussed the concept in Los Cabos at the G-20 in June 2012. It was then brought up again at the most recent G-20 in Russia; while world leaders were mingling after the first plenary session, Obama and Putin went to a corner of the room and spoke for nearly half an hour about Syria.
"Putin broached the idea that had been discussed in [a] previous meeting about reaching an international agreement to remove chemical weapons," said the official. "Obama agreed that could be an avenue for cooperation, and said that Kerry and Lavrov should follow up on the concept to shape a potential proposal. Putin agreed to relay that to Lavrov."
President Barack Obama highlighted this fact on Tuesday when he met with Senate Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill for their respective caucus lunches.
According to a senior Senate aide, Obama told Democrats that he had asked Kerry to reach out to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and offer the diplomatic solution.
"He mentioned that that occurred during the G-20 meeting, when he met with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin -- that he would assign Kerry to discuss diplomatic alternatives," added Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).
Kerry, Lavrov and Putin had also spoken about it a couple months earlier, in April, when the secretary of state visited Moscow.
"[O]ver a long dinner at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the eve of Russia's Victory Day," the official added, "Kerry and Lavrov discussed replicating the potential model of Libya's nuclear program, which in 2003 was removed under an international agreement."
Contact picked up between Kerry and Lavrov again after the Aug. 21 chemical attack, and they have since spoken nine times.
The Obama administration has insisted that Kerry's remark was not a formal proposal, but it is willing to take a "hard look" should one emerge.
"There is hope, but not yet trust in what the Russians are doing," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) after the meeting with the president on Tuesday. "But I think there's a general view -- whether people are for it or against it, there's an overwhelming view that it would be preferable if international law and the family of nations could strip Syria of the chemical weapons, and there's a large view that we should let that process play out for a little while."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated when the 30-minute post-plenary chat about Syria happened between Obama and Putin. It occurred at the G-20 summit this month, not the one a year ago.