Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Russia promises to help contain Syrian chemical weapons

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MOSCOW -- Russia is working closely with the Syrian government to ensure its arsenal of chemical weapons remains under firm control and has won promises that the weapons of mass destruction will not be used or moved, Moscow's point man on Syria told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The potential use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict has put Russia, the Syrian regime's steadfast ally, in a rare point of agreement with the United States, which has pressured Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down in the face of an armed uprising.

Russia has shielded Assad's regime from UN sanctions and continued to provide it with weapons throughout the 18-month conflict, which activists estimate has killed more than 20,000 people. In July, Syria acknowledged its possession of chemical weapons by threatening to use them if foreign states tried to interfere militarily.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday the United States might have to intervene in Syria if the government there used or moved chemical weapons. Obama also warned of the threat of such weapons falling into the hands of rebels fighting the government or militant groups aiding either side.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Russia is in full agreement with the Americans on the need to prevent Assad's government from using the weapons or allowing them to slip out from under its control.

Russia, meanwhile, is counting on the United States and others to use their influence with opposition forces to prevent chemical weapons from falling into terrorist hands, Gatilov said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2012 A19

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