MOSCOW, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Syria plans to send a large shipment of toxic agents out of the country this month and can complete the removal process by March 1, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was quoted as saying on Tuesday.
"Literally yesterday the Syrians announced that the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February. They are ready to complete this process by March 1," state-run Russia news agency RIA quoted Gatilov as saying.
The operation to dispose of Syria's chemical stockpile under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States is far behind schedule and a deadline for sending all toxic agents out of Syria this week will be missed, Reuters reported last week.
U.S. officials accused Damascus of dragging its feet and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last Friday to put pressure on Assad's government to accelerate the operation.
Russia, the government's most powerful backer during a nearly three-year-old civil conflict in Syria, has said Western concerns are overblown and rejected accusations that the delays are deliberate, citing security and logistical issues.
"As for timing, in principle everything is going OK," Ryabkov was quoted as saying. "There really are difficulties linked to the need to provide security for this operation," Gatilov was quoted as saying.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)