Syria’s government and its Russian ally said military strikes proposed by the U.S. won’t help end the Arab country’s civil war, and called instead for peace talks and the return of United Nations chemical-weapons inspectors.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said his government is willing to enter peace talks with rebels fighting to topple it without setting preconditions. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, he called for a return of United Nations inspectors to Syria to examine evidence for the chemical attack that the U.S. says justifies punitive military action against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, speaking alongside his Syrian counterpart, echoed those positions and said there’s “sufficient evidence” that the rebels were involved in the Aug. 21 chemical attack. Lavrov said the question of chemical weapons can be resolved, and that he discussed measures that can promote a political settlement during his meeting with Muallem.
Muallem said that if U.S. concerns about chemical weapons are genuine “then we will cooperate fully with the Russian federation to remove these excuses.” Israel’s Ynet news site reported that Russia is working on a deal to remove Assad’s chemical weapons from Syria, citing an unidentified Israeli official.
U.S. President Barack Obama has been seeking support at home and abroad for the use of military force to punish Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons in one of the most gruesome episodes of a 2 1/2-year civil war that has left at least 100,000 dead. Assad’s government has denied using the weapons.
The U.S. Congress, where a growing number of lawmakers have questioned Obama’s proposal for military action in Syria, is due to debate a resolution authorizing the president’s plan this week.