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Kerry asks Russia to pressure Syria on faster chemical arms removal

Source: Reuters - Fri, 31 Jan 2014 23:23 GMT
Author: Reuters
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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.N. Special Representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (L-R), Munich January 31, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool
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By Stephen Brown

MUNICH, Jan 31 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Russia's foreign minister on Friday to put pressure on the Syrian government to accelerate the removal of chemical weapons, which Kerry said is not happening quickly enough.

Kerry met Russia's Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to discuss what Washington considered to be "unacceptable" progress in moving Syrian chemical weapons, said a senior U.S. State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Secretary Kerry pressed Foreign Minister Lavrov to push the regime for more progress on moving the remaining chemical weapons within Syria to the port in Latakia," the official said.

Reuters reported this week that Syria has given up less than 5 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal of roughly 1,300 tonnes of toxic agents and will miss next week's deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction.

The State Department confirmed on Thursday that just 4 percent of Syria's deadliest chemical agents had been shipped out of the country for destruction at sea.

Under a deal agreed by Russia and the United States after a sarin gas attack last August which killed hundreds of people, Syria promised to give up its stockpile by mid-2014. The operation, overseen by a joint mission with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations, is six to eight weeks behind schedule.

Failure to eliminate its chemical weapons could expose Syria to sanctions, although these would have to be supported in the U.N. Security Council by Russia and China, which have so far refused to back such measures against President Bashar al-Assad.

Parallel to Kerry's meeting with Lavrov, the White House said it was working with partners to ratchet up pressure on the Assad government on the chemical weapons.

Russia earlier rejected U.S. claims that Syria is dragging its feet on giving up chemical weapons, saying that a June 30 deadline to destroy Assad's arsenal of toxic agents remains viable despite delays.

Syria, where civil war has killed more than 100,000 people and forced millions to flee, blames delays on security obstacles.

Kerry and Lavrov also met in Munich with U.N. chief Ban Ki Moon and U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who later told a panel on Syria at the conference that the first public talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Geneva this week had made "no progress."

"We have failed somewhere. We can say it is an intractable problem, it is difficult. But somewhere there is a failure," he said, adding that he hoped the talks would resume in Geneva on February 10 in a "more constructive" mood. (Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Editing by Amanda Kwan)

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