Russia is especially concerned about remarks by some US administration officials alleging the Syrian government was behind "the purported use of chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta last week,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his US counterpart John Kerry in a telephone conversation, according to a Foreign Ministry website statement.
The Syrian opposition has accused the government of killing hundreds of people in a massive nerve gas attack near Damascus on Wednesday, with death toll estimates varying from 100 to more than 1,000 people. The Syrian government promptly denied the reports as baseless and showed on state TV what it said was evidence of chemical weapons stocks held by rebel forces.
A team of UN inspectors started working in Damascus Monday to verify the claims of chemical weapons use. The team is expected to visit three sites where chemical weapons attacks allegedly occurred previously. One site is the town of Khan al-Assal, in Syria’s northern Aleppo province, where the Syrian government claimed rebels used chemical weapons in March.
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Sunday President Obama had asked the US military to "prepare for all contingencies,” following the alleged gas attack incidents, US media reported. Lavrov’s appeal follows an increasing force build-up by the United States Navy in the eastern Mediterranean. Four destroyers armed with cruise missiles are in the area, US defense officials told Fox News on the weekend.
"The impression is that certain circles [in the US], including those who are actively calling for military intervention in circumvention of the United Nations, are overtly trying to undo the joint Russian-US efforts to convene an international conference on the peaceful resolution of the crisis,” Lavrov told Kerry.
He urged the US to refrain from exerting pressure on Damascus and responding to provocations, stressing the need to facilitate the ongoing UN investigation into the Ghouta incident.
Kerry promised to carefully study Russia’s arguments. The two ministers agreed to address all aspects of the Syria crisis in the very near future, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The unrest in Syria began in March 2011 and later escalated into a civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, according to the UN.