Russia Says Syria to Ship More Chemical Arms, Attend Talks
Moscow- Russia offered assurances on Tuesday that the Syrian government will show up at a new round of peace talks next week and will soon ship more toxic agents abroad for destruction under a deal to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal. The statements appeared intended to ease Western concerns about President Bashar al-Assad’s commitment to a peace process that started last month, and to abandoning his chemical arsenal by mid-year under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.
They came as Russia hosted the leader of the Syrian opposition National Coalition for the first time in the three-year-old conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and spawned mutual recriminations between Russia and the West. Syria plans to send a large shipment of toxic agents out of the country this month and can complete the removal process by March 1, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said.
“Literally yesterday the Syrians announced that the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February. They are ready to complete this process by March 1,” state-run Russia news agency RIA quoted Gatilov as saying. Moscow, Assad’s most powerful diplomatic backer, has been under pressure to push Damascus to speed up shipments since Reuters reported last week that it had given up less than 5 percent of its chemical stockpile.
The operation was far behind schedule and the deadline for sending all toxic agents out by this week will be missed. U.S. officials accused Damascus of dragging its feet and Secretary of State John Kerry asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last Friday to put pressure on Assad’s government to accelerate the operation.
“The Syrian government is slowing down the destruction of its chemical weapons … Bashar al-Assad’s government must respect the commitments that it has made,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Europe 1 radio on Tuesday. (Reuters)