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Syria's chemical weapons safe for now: Russia

Russian Federation,Diplomacy, Sun, 23 Dec 2012 IANS

Moscow, Dec 23 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Chemical weapons in Syria are under the control of the government, which has consolidated them in one or two locations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"As of right now, the (Syrian) government is doing all it can to safeguard those weapons," he said.

"We are following all leads concerning chemical weapons," Lavrov said.

However, there was a potential danger that those weapons could be seized by militants, he admitted.

Western nations are seriously concerned that Syria's chemical weapons could "fall into the wrong hands", Lavrov said.

Syria has not signed the international Chemical Weapons Convention and is believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, an extremely toxic nerve agent.

The CIA says Syria has had a chemical weapons programme "for years" and that the weapons can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets".

But Syria has never deployed the weapons, although it warned earlier this year that they could be used against "foreign invaders".

Western powers have warned President Bashar al-Assad that any use of chemical weapons would be unacceptable. US President Barack Obama has told Syria that the movement or use of chemical weapons would have "enormous consequences".

Lavrov reiterated Russia's position that it will not grant Assad asylum, adding however that "some countries" had asked Russia to convey an offer of safe passage to him.

"Russia has stated publicly that we are not inviting President Assad and have no such plans," Lavrov said.

He said the countries that want Assad to go should tell him in so many words.

"My answer is very simple: Why use us as a postman: If President Assad is interested, then this should be discussed with him directly," Lavrov said.

Russia, along with China, has drawn heavy Western criticism for its refusal to support UN sanctions against Assad's regime. Moscow said the proposed UN resolutions in fact betrayed a pro-rebel bias and would do nothing to bring peace.

The conflict between government troops and opposition forces has claimed the lives of over 30,000 people since March 2011, according to UN figures.

--IANS/RIA Novosti

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