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Russia defends Syrian chemical weapons

MUNICH, Germany, Feb. 2 (UPI) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Syrian government maintains control of chemical weapons and won’t use them against rebels in their civil war.

“We have reliable information that so far the Syrian government controls the situation” with the chemical weapons, Lavrov said Saturday at an international conference in Munich, Germany.

He maintained Russian support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose crackdown on anti-government rebels has lasted nearly two years.

Lavrov said the only way Syria’s chemical weapons would be dangerous is if they were to fall into rebel hands, RIA Novosti said Saturday. Otherwise, “the situation doesn’t give any grounds for serious worries,” he said.

Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib and Lavrov met on the sidelines of the conference Friday, RIA Novosti reported, citing sources.

Khatib, a leader of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, had said he would be willing to talk to Lavrov, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Lakhdar Brahimi, the special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League, RIA Novosti said. The Foreign Ministry said there were no plans for a four-way discussion.

At the conference, Lavrov maintained Russia’s position on Assad.

“The persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of President Assad — I think it’s the single biggest reason for the continued tragedy in Syria,” he said.

The United Nations estimates 60,000 people have been killed in Syria since large-scale demonstrations against Assad began in March 2011.

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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