Russia Sees Plans for Syrian Peace Talks Dashed If U.S. Attacks

U.S. military action against Syria would probably thwart plans for a resumption of talks in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said as he discounted as unconvincing evidence of Syrian use of chemical weapons.

“If action announced by the U.S. president does take place after all, to our deepest regret, then regardless of what has been said about Geneva II, the prospects of this forum are being put off for a long time, if not forever,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow today.

Russia, a veto-wielding member in the United Nations Security Council, has sought to revive talks on a political transition in Syria after an international conference in Geneva last year agreed in principle to UN-brokered guidelines to bring the conflict to a close. Russia and the U.S. cited the Geneva communique in May as a blueprint for their push for negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents.

Russia has stood its ground in defending Soviet-era ally Syria against accusations it used chemical weapons against civilians, after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week accused it of “obstructionism” at the UN. Russia remains unconvinced by the evidence that the U.S. government has supplied as proof of President Bashar al-Assad’s involvement in the chemical attack, Lavrov said today in comments broadcast on state television.

Assad’s government denies carrying out a chemical assault.

‘Utter Nonsense’

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will host a Group of 20 summit meeting in St. Petersburg Sept. 5-6, said last week that it would have been “utter nonsense” for Assad to carry out the assault on the day a team of UN inspectors arrived in Damascus and his troops were making military progress against rebel forces.

“I am convinced that it’s nothing more than a provocation by those who want to draw other countries into the Syrian conflict, who want to gain the support of powerful international players, primarily, of course, the U.S.,” Putin said in Vladivostok Aug. 31 in his first comments since reports of the attack surfaced. “I have no doubts about it.”

The UN estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since the push to drive Assad from power 2 1/2 years ago deteriorated into civil war.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a surprise move, decided to seek congressional approval to strike Syria for what the administration says was an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack by the Assad government that killed more than 1.400 people. The request puts off any decision on a strike until at least Sept. 9, when Congress returns from its summer recess.

Nerve Agent

Hair and blood samples from Syria tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, Kerry said in television interviews yesterday. Forensic evidence in the Aug. 21 attack was obtained by the U.S. from first responders in east Damascus, according to the top U.S. diplomat.

Evidence of the attack that was shared with Russia by Western nations “absolutely doesn’t convince us,” Lavrov said today, adding that the intelligence reports lacked geographic coordinates, names or proof that samples were taken by professionals.

“There are no facts,” Lavrov said. “When we ask for more detailed proof, they say it’s all secret and that’s why it can’t be shown.”

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