Moscow hopes the U.N. Security Council will agree a resolution this week to support a deal for Syria to abandon its chemical arms, but talks with the United States have been rocky, a senior Russian diplomat said on Tuesday.
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Speaking before negotiations expected on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated Russia's opposition to any threat of military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.
He said Moscow would not accept a resolution that would trigger punitive measures if Assad fails to comply with the U.S.-Russian deal under which he has agreed to give up his chemical arsenal.
"There can be no talk of any automatic sanctions or use of force," Ryabkov said at a meeting in parliament. He reiterated Russian concerns that Western states want to use the chemical arms agreement as a pretext for eventual military action.
Asked whether the permanent Security Council members - Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France - could reach agreement on the resolution this week, he said: "We hope so, but there is no guarantee."
"Unfortunately it's necessary to note that in contacts with the Americans, things are not going so smoothly ... they are not quite going in the direction they should," Ryabkov said.
He said U.S. officials "always mention that plans to punish Damascus remain in force. We draw certain conclusions from that and assume that the threat of aggression in violation of international law is so far only delayed, not dismissed fully."
UN chemical weapons inspectors will return to Syria on Wednesday to investigate alleged attacks using poison gas, Ryabkov was quoted as saying Tuesday by Russia media.
"We are satisfied that our insistence that the UN experts return was answered," he said.
The inspectors have determined that chemical weapons were used in an attack near Damascus on August 21 that killed hundreds and which the United States and its allies blame on the Syrian government.
The inspectors want to investigate other instances of alleged chemical weapons use, including a March attack on the town of Khan al-Assal, in the northern Aleppo province.
The August attack prompted the United States to threaten military strikes against the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose forces are fighting rebels seeking his overthrow.
A US-Russian deal this month to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal by mid-2014 averted the strikes.
Under the deal, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will verify Syria's information on location and support the country in securing the weapons and facilities until their destruction. A more exact schedule was not yet known.
Syria is officially to become the 190th member state of the organization on October 14, 2013. The OPCW is the responsible body for the implementation and supervision of the international Chemical Weapons Convention.
The United States, France and Britain have submitted a draft resolution on Syria at the UN Security Council, where members Russia and China are opposed to evoking Chapter VII, which would allow the use of force if Syria doesn't fulfill its commitments.