* Lugar wants US, Russia to rid Syria of chemical arms
* Senator is veteran campaigner for disarmament
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, Aug 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, a veteran disarmament campaigner, has urged Russia and the United States to put aside their differences over Syria and work together to remove its stockpile of chemical weapons.
In Moscow for talks with foreign and defence ministry officials, he said the proposal was his own, had not been officially sanctioned and the initial response from Russia had been cool.
But Lugar, who is serving his final term as Republican senator from Indiana, said the two former Cold War enemies could reap benefits in other areas - such as political and trade relations - if they joined forces to reduce Syria's stockpiles.
"I've suggested that we ought to be thinking ahead, about two great powers with great respect for each other, and considering tackling the problem of the chemical weapons of Syria," Lugar, the senior Republican on the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters in a Moscow hotel.
Referring to the results of efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons as the Cold War drew to a close and after the Soviet Union collapsed, he said: "It's set the stage for the development of trade ties."
Cooperation to reduce Syria's stockpile would mark a step forward for Russia and the United States after months of disagreement over the 17-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
U.S.-Russian relations also became frayed during a presidential election campaign this year in which Vladimir Putin, who is now back in the Kremlin, accused Western governments of funding opposition groups in Russia.
Moscow, which has a naval maintenance facility in Syria, sells it arms and wants to keep a foothold in the Middle East, has repeatedly opposed efforts backed by Washington to tighten sanctions on Damascus and remove Assad from power.
Lugar, 80, said a senior Russian Defence Ministry official had responded to his proposal on the elimination of chemical weapons by saying Syria had not signed an international convention intended to prevent the development and production of chemical arms and Russia and Washington did not own the arms.
The senator responded: "But it is also not very clear who in the course of events will own them ... Everyone sees these weapons as having a potentially adverse influence on the course of peace and stability in the Middle East."
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi acknowledged last month that the country had chemical weapons, saying it would not use them to crush rebels but could use them against forces from outside the country.
Russia later said it told the Syrian government that it was unacceptable to use or threaten to use chemical weapons.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern and demanded Syria's government state that it would not use them "under any circumstances".
Lugar came to Moscow to try to ensure the extension of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programme which he helped launch in 1991.
The project, intended to dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union, was last ratified by Russia in 2008 and is due to expire in 2013. Aides said it had resulted in the deactivation of more than 7,650 strategic warheads.
Lugar is also visiting the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia. Aides said it could be his last working trip to Moscow, two decades after his first visit to try to reduce weapons stockpiles.
A 35-year veteran of the Senate, and a leading foreign policy voice, he was defeated in the Indiana Republican primary in May.