Russia said Syria's regime plans by March 1 to turn over a major quantity of warfare chemicals to foreign disarmament crews, Reuters reports.
Syrian President Bashar Assad's government on Monday said "the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February. They are ready to complete this process by March 1," RIA Novosti quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying.
Gatilov issued the comments as Western nations questioned whether Russia's ally in Damascus is committed to the international goal of removing all of its chemical-warfare assets from Syria's war-ravaged territory and destroying them by the end of June. Assad confirmed holding chemical weapons and agreed to their elimination last year, amid a heated international controversy stemming from an August release of sarin nerve agent in a suburb of the Syrian capital.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said "there are no grounds" for disarmament concerns aired by Western governments and international authorities.
"It was clear from the very beginning that overly tight schedules established last year for the removal of chemicals from Syria would shift," Ryabkov told Reuters. Still, he said it remains possible to fully destroy Assad's chemical arsenal by June 30.
The Russian diplomat said that "reasonable, serious considerations" have justified the Assad regime's requests for additional gear to protect chemical deliveries to the port city of Latakia, where the warfare substances are slated to be placed on foreign transport vessels.
The U.S. State Department, though, on Monday reaffirmed suggestions that Damascus officials are deliberately "dragging their feet" in the disarmament process.
Assad's forces now have "every tool they need in order to deliver on their promise of moving the chemical weapons to the port at Latakia," spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
"We're not at a point where we would predict a next step with the U.N.," Psaki added. "We will of course continue talking about this day to day."