Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said on Monday that his country welcomed Moscow's proposal to relinquish control over its chemical arsenals, a move Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said could avert a U.S. strike.
"The Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, which is motivated by the Russian leadership's concern for the life of our citizens and the security of our country," Moallem told reporters in Moscow, according to the Interfax news agency.
Lavrov told reporters just before Moallem's response that Russia would urge Syria to concentrate its chemical weapons in certain areas under international oversight and then dismantle them.
The statement comes as President Barack Obama, who blames President Bashar Assad for killing hundreds of his own people in a chemical attack last month, is pressing for a limited strike against the Syrian government. Assad's regi,e has denied launching the attack, insisting along with its ally Russia that the attack was launched by the rebels to drag the U.S. into war.
After a meeting with Moallem on Monday, Lavrov said he and his Syrian counterpart had agreed that UN chemical weapons experts should complete their probe and present their findings to the UN Security Council.
"We have agreed to push for the soonest return of inspectors," Lavrov said.
Moallem said his government was ready to host the UN team, and insisted that Syria was ready to use all channels to convince the Americans that it was not behind the attack.
He added that Syria was ready for "full cooperation with Russia to remove any pretext for aggression." Neither minister, however, offered any evidence to back their claim of rebel involvement in the chemical attack.
Lavrov said that Russia will continue to promote a peaceful settlement and may try to convene a gathering of all Syrian opposition figures to join in negotiations. He added that a U.S. attack on Syria would deal a fatal blow to peace efforts.
Lavrov wouldn't say how Russia could respond to a possible U.S. attack on Syria, saying that "we wouldn't like to proceed from a negative scenario and would primarily take efforts to prevent a military intervention."
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would keep providing assistance to Syria in case of U.S. attack, but he and other Russian officials have made clear that Russia has no intention to engage in hostilities.
Lavrov also denied allegations that Russia may have sponsored a deal between the U.S. and Syria during the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg last week, where Putin discussed the Syrian crisis with Obama.
"There won't be and there can't be any deal behind the back of the Syrian people," Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, the White House said on Monday fourteen more countries have signed on to a statement condemning Syria for the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack, and calling for a strong international response to hold the Syrian government accountable.
The additional countries brought the total number backing the statement to 25, as the United States tries to marshal international support for military strikes against Syria. The new countries include the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, the White House said.
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