Russia has said its ally Syria will soon ship more chemical weapons abroad for destruction after the government of President Bashar al-Assad was accused of dragging its feet on disposing of the arms.
Syria has failed to meet its deadline to eliminate all chemical agents by next week, but Russia said the government would be able to complete the removal by March 1.
“Literally yesterday the Syrians announced that the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February. They are ready to complete this process by March 1,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Gennady Gatilov, said according to the state-run Russian news agency RIA.
Moscow also said on Tuesday that the Syrian government would show up at a new round of peace talks next week, hoping to allay Western concerns over Assad’s commitment to negotiations which ended inconclusively in Geneva last week.
“We have no doubt that the government delegation will take part in the second round of international talks in Geneva,” Deputy Foreign Minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, told reporters before talks in Moscow between Russian officials and Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmed Jarba.
The talks between Jarba and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov came after an inconclusive 10-day peace conference in Geneva broke up on Friday without a firm commitment from Damascus to attend a new round set for February 10.
The so-called Geneva II talks were promoted jointly by Washington, a firm backer of the Syrian opposition, and Moscow, an ally of the Damascus regime, in a bid to convince the warring sides to sit down for direct negotiations for the first time.
But Assad’s team and the opposition made no progress on local ceasefires or permission for humanitarian corridors to some of the country’s more devastated cities such as Homs.
A Jarba aide said the umbrella opposition group was especially concerned that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had avoided any discussion of a transitional government that could pave the way for Assad’s removal from power.
“The main subjects of discussion with the Russian foreign minister will be the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Syrian cities, the release of prisoners from Syrian jails, and the formation of a transitional government,” Jarba’s head adviser, Monzer Aqbiq, told RIA.
Moscow has sided with its traditional Middle East ally in public and said that Assad’s departure from power should not be a precondition for political change.
“The regime wants to talk about humanitarian assistance and avoid a discussion of political issues,” Syrian National Coalition secretary-general, Badr Jamous, told the Interfax news agency.
Russia and the opposition’s Western and Arab allies have clashed not only over the future role of Assad but also the makeup of the negotiations teams.