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Russia Accuses West of Blocking Steps to Protect Syrian Chemicals From Rebels

Syrian rebel fighters ride a pick-up truck through Latakia province on Friday. Russia's foreign ministry on Tuesday said Western governments had limited their efforts to secure Syrian chemical-arms shipments against opposition fighters. Syrian rebel fighters ride a pick-up truck through Latakia province on Friday. Russia's foreign ministry on Tuesday said Western governments had limited their efforts to secure Syrian chemical-arms shipments against opposition fighters. (Ali Nasser/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia has accused Western powers of limiting their efforts to guard Syrian chemical-arms shipments against rebel forces, ITAR-Tass reports.

The Russian foreign ministry on Tuesday defended a decision by its Damascus ally to pause chemical-weapon transfers to Syria's Latakia seaport after opposition forces pushed into nearby territory in March. Foreign transport vessels are picking up warfare chemicals from the port city for destruction abroad under a disarmament plan backed last year by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.

Russia indicated it had tried unsuccessfully to convince Western governments "to exert influence on the opposition for normalizing the situation" in the surrounding province, where rebels had made military gains.

"In particular, the Western partners rejected Russia's proposal for a special statement by the U.N. Security Council chairman," according to Moscow.

Russian officials added, though, that chemical-arms shipments into Latakia had resumed, Interfax reported. Damascus placed an additional 64 metric tons of its stocks in international custody last week, meaning it has surrendered 59 percent of its stockpile, the foreign ministry stated.

The office said governments would meet an international goal to eliminate the Assad regime's chemical stockpile before July "if no more hostilities are encountered on [chemical] convoys."

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday attempted to deflect congressional criticism of the plan to eliminate the Syrian stocks, Time magazine reported. Assad's government agreed to the proposal after a release of sarin nerve agent in a Damascus suburb last year prompted discussion of potential military intervention in Syria's civil war.

"Would you rather drop a few bombs, send a message, and then have him [Assad] still with the [chemical] weapons and the capacity to deliver them, or would you rather get all of them out?" Kerry asked at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

When asked whether he favored possible armed action in Syria, Kerry said "there is a capacity to change Assad's calculation." He declined to elaborate at the hearing.

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