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Russia Certain No Chemical Attacks Will Occur in Syria

A Syrian soldier checks out the site of an Aug. 15 bomb attack in Damascus. Talks with the Syrian government have reportedly persuaded Russia that the Assad regime would not use chemical warfare materials as it strives to defeat an armed rebellion (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman). A Syrian soldier checks out the site of an Aug. 15 bomb attack in Damascus. Talks with the Syrian government have reportedly persuaded Russia that the Assad regime would not use chemical warfare materials as it strives to defeat an armed rebellion (AP Photo/Muzaffar Salman).

Russia is confident the Syrian government will refrain from mounting chemical warfare attacks and will maintain security around its unconventional weapons, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

An anonymous Russian Foreign Ministry official told the Kommersant newspaper that back-channel talks with Damascus had assured Moscow that "the Syrian authorities do not intend to use these weapons and are capable of keeping them under control themselves."

President Obama this week threatened the Bashar Assad regime with "enormous consequences" should it employ chemical arms or make them available to nonstate actors in the region. The president said a chemical weapons attack would cross a "red line," suggesting the United States could respond with armed force.

Moscow subsequently said it would not tolerate any Western military intervention that did not have the prior approval of the U.N. Security Council.

Syria is understood to possess large quantities of sarin and VX nerve agents as well as mustard gas that could be delivered in attacks by ballistic missiles, rockets and other weaponry.

The Foreign Ministry source was quoted as saying Russia views it "entirely probable" the U.S. military will intervene in Syria should a chemical weapons crisis erupt. 

Washington has "firmly warned insurgents not to even come close to chemical weapons storage sites and production plants," the ministry official said, adding that "opposition groups are heeding" that command.

"This shows that the West can exert very specific influence on Assad's opponents when [it] wants to do so," according to the official.

U.S. intelligence agencies are keeping tabs on a minimum of four chemical arms-related installations in the Arab country, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday. An anonymous high-ranking official from a Western nation said "no change" has been observed in the geographical placement or security level of the known chemical depots and that there are no signs the arms are being prepared for usage.

Though Obama officials said the president's threat was intended as a deterrent to Damascus against mounting chemical strikes, some analysts are concerned the warning would be understood by Assad loyalists as meaning that employment of more-powerful conventional weapons in the 18-month long effort to subdue the popular rebellion would go unchallenged by the U.S. military.

"I don't like his formulation at all," Washington Institute for Near East Policy Executive Director Robert Satloff said in an interview. "It inadvertently tells the Syrians they can get away with anything but chemical weapons."

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace analyst Marwan Muasher told the Post he interpreted Obama's remarks as a "deterrent, more than any signal that the United States is going to interfere militarily at this stage."

However, an unidentified Obama official insisted to the New York Times the United States would have to intervene if chemical weapons are used in Syria. "We say it for deterrence effect, of course, but it's also a reality. The United States is not going to be able to sit it out if Syria starts using chemical weapons on its people."

A U.S. armed forces intervention in Syria could cause Russia and Iran to increase their support of Damascus . Additionally, a U.S. incursion could bolster Assad's standing with the Syrian people against a foreign invader and encourage regional extremist groups involved in the conflict to mount attacks on U.S. forces that might be deployed in the country.

The Obama administration has decided against supplying weapons to opposition fighters out of concern the arms would actually worsen the security situation in the country and surrounding region.

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