Lavrov: Syria Acting to Consolidate Chemical Weapons
Syria has acted to consolidate its chemical weapons into "one or two" places to prevent rebels capturing them, Russia's foreign minister said on Saturday.
The BBC quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as having said the weapons had previously been "scattered" across the country and they were "under control" for the time being.
Lavrov also said President Bashar al-Assad had no plans to leave Syria.
Lavrov told journalists on a flight returning to Moscow from an EU-Russia summit in Brussels, "According to the information we have, as well as the data of the US and European special services, the [Syrian] government is doing everything to secure [its chemical stockpiles].
"The Syrian government has concentrated the stockpiles in one or two centres, unlike the past when they were scattered across the country," he added, according to the BBC.
The United States said earlier this month that it had intelligence showing Syria was considering using its chemical weapons. U.S. President Barack Obama led international warnings to President Bashar al-Assad over the arsenal.
The United States and its allies, including Israel, have repeatedly expressed concern that Syria's stockpile, believed to be one of the biggest in the world, could be stolen and fall into extremist hands or be transferred to the Hizbullah terror group by a crumbling Syrian regime.
The United Nations has begun sending chemical weapons kits to UN troops in the Golan Heights because of growing fears over Syria's deadly non-conventional arsenal.
Mike Rogers, the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Intelligence, told the BBC a regional plan was needed to secure the weapons "immediately".
"If not, we're going to have a very major destabilising event in the region," Rogers said.
The U.S. has said that Assad using chemical weapons against Syrians would be a "red line" that might trigger military intervention.
Lavrov said, however, he believed Western powers had no appetite to intervene.
"I have the feeling that they are praying for Russia and China to continue blocking permission for external intervention. Because if there is such a decision, they will have to act, and no-one is ready to act," he added, according to the BBC.
Lavrov said he believed neither side could win the civil war, and that Assad was not going to leave. He added that some regional powers had asked Moscow to mediate for Assad to leave.
In responses to those requests, Lavrov said he told them, "Why do we have to do it? If you have these plans, go to him yourselves."
Russia has remained Syria's main major ally throughout 21 months of violence, scuttling three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions against Assad for his crackdown.
However, its position seems to have shifted recently. Russian President Vladimir Putin said last Thursday Russia was "not concerned" about Assad and stressed that Moscow was only seeking to avert a perpetual civil war.
At the same time he made no call on Assad to step down and said it remained up to the Syrian people themselves to decide their future through peaceful talks.
The comments came a week after a top Russian official hinted that Assad's days are numbered.
The country's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia’s top envoy for Syria, said that recent events in Syria show that the government's grip on the fighting is slipping and that the rebels stand a real chance of defeating Assad.