Russia: Syrian chemical weapons secure

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Published Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Russia on Wednesday said it had received assurances from the Syrian government that its chemical weapons were secure, adding that fresh sanctions against Damascus were "counterproductive."

"We have received firm assurances from Damascus that the security of these arsenals is fully ensured," Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in an interview with the ITAR-TASS news agency.

He stressed that Syria, as a signatory of the Geneva protocol banning the use of chemical weapons, "had taken on itself concrete obligations to renounce such methods of warfare."

"We consider that Syria must fulfill its obligations," he said.

But he warned that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime were to fall, chemical weapons could fall into the hands of the armed opposition, including Islamist fundamentalists.

"We must not forget about the other side of this question, namely that the armed opposition is acting there and here it cannot be ruled out that the arsenals of chemical weapons could somehow fall into their hands," he said.

Gatilov's comments come a day after a senior Israeli official said the Syrian regime was "responsibly" safeguarding its weapons stockpile.

Syria said on Monday that it would never use its chemical weapons against its population, arguing they were only for use against foreign aggressors.

Russia responded Tuesday by urging its ally to comply with international treaties and refrain from using its chemical weapons.

Also on Wednesday Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov accused the US of justifying terrorism, after Washington failed to condemn the July 18 blast that killed top Syrian officials.

"This is a quite awful position, I cannot even find the words to make clear how we feel," Lavrov told reporters. "This is directly justifying terrorism. How can this be understood?"

The Syrian defense and interior ministers were among those killed in the blast, but the US has declined to refer to the assassinations as terrorism.

A statement from Lavrov's ministry also condemned fresh EU sanctions against Damascus, saying the laws amounted to an air and sea "blockade" of Syria.

"Russia does not recognize (the EU sanctions) and views them as counterproductive, not capable of resolving the situation in Syria," the statement said, adding it went against the letter and the spirit of a peace plan set out by international mediator Kofi Annan.

"Essentially, the measures taken by the European Union can be considered a declaration of a sea and air blockade of Syria,"the statement added.

Earlier this week, the EU increased sanctions against Assad's regime and agreed to tighten an arms embargo by inspecting vessels and planes suspected of carrying arms.

The West and Gulf Arab states have sought to squeeze Damascus through increasingly stringent economic sanctions, while providing aid to the armed rebels.

Russia and China have accused them of undermining peace efforts in Syria, and pursuing a strategy that will lead to full-scale civil war.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)

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