Russia Urges Syria to Give Up Chemical Arms to Avoid Strike

Russia urged Syria to give up its stockpile of chemical weapons if doing so would help avoid a U.S.-led military strike, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting his Syrian counterpart in Moscow today.

Lavrov spoke following comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that suggested the U.S. may call off a military strike if Syria handed over its chemical weapons within a week. Asked afterward whether the U.S. has given Syria an ultimatum, a State Department spokeswoman said Kerry was making a “rhetorical argument” about Assad’s refusal to back down.

“If the establishment of international control of chemical weapons in the country will help avoid military strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus,” Lavrov said today. “We call on the Syrian leadership not only to agree to put chemical weapons storages under international control, but to also to have them destroyed subsequently.”

Russia, which has been using its UN Security Council veto to shield Assad from international censure and supplied his regime with weapons, has pledged to continue helping him if the U.S. launches a strike in retaliation for a gas attack in a Damascus suburb last month.

Russia and Syria, two Cold War-era allies, earlier today said military strikes proposed by the U.S. won’t help end Syria’s civil war and called instead for peace talks and the return of United Nations chemical-weapons inspectors.

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