In a bid to avert punitive strikes by the U.S., Russia urged Syria to put its stockpiles of chemical weapons under international control so they could be destroyed. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, reportedly made the request during a discussion with Walid Muallem, his Syrian counterpart. Muallem said Syria welcomed the call and, through an interpreter, praised Russia for “attempting to prevent American aggression against our people.”
Lavrov’s appeal came after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a news conference, said Syrian President Bashar Assad could avoid military action by handing over its stockpiles within a week. A State Department spokeswoman later clarified Kerry’s statement as a “rhetorical argument,” not a real offer on behalf of the Obama Administration.
Assad has denied reports by the U.S. and France that his regime ordered a chemical-weapons strike on Aug. 21 that allegedly killed hundreds of Syrians in an attack involving sarin gas. On Sunday, a German newspaper reported that high-level German intelligence officials said communications between Assad and his military commanders show he denied their requests to use the weapons.