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Russia Urges Assad to Relinquish Chemical Arms

Russia could press Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to allow its chemical arsenal to be dismantled under global supervision, the Associated Press quoted Moscow's top diplomat as saying on Monday.

Russian officials would push Damascus to turn over the weapons if doing so would stave off a U.S. military response to what Washington and its allies contend was the Assad regime's nerve-gas strike against opposition forces in August, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.

The White House intends "to take a hard look at the proposal," U.S. deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said on Monday. "We'll talk to the Russians about it," he added in comments reported by AP.

The United States could step back from a potential armed offensive if Assad gave up "every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week," Secretary of State John Kerry said in Monday remarks reported by the New York Times. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, though, later said Kerry was making a "rhetorical argument about the [move's] impossibility and unlikelihood."

Kerry later spoke with Lavrov by telephone, Reuters reported.

Walid al-Moualem, Assad's foreign minister, on Monday said Damascus "welcomes Russia's initiative," CNN reported.

Al-Moualem was set on Monday to confer with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a reported blueprint for Syria's chemical arms to be moved to an area controlled by Moscow or another outside government, according to Haaretz. The head of the United Nations on Monday said he might urge the U.N. Security Council to call on Damascus to go forward with such an arrangement, Reuters reported.

The Syrian government has never publicly confirmed possessing such weapons. In a Sunday interview with CBS journalist Charlie Rose, Assad denied direct involvement in any chemical assault, the Times reported separately.

Meanwhile, Arab and Iranian news accounts suggested Putin and al-Moualem could talk about a possible phased "democratic transfer" of authority that would aim to avert foreign military intervention, Haaretz reported. Further information was not immediately available on the latter plan, which reportedly had backing from certain Iranian and Russian officials.

Lavrov said he and al-Moualem on Monday had resolved to press for a second trip to Syria by international investigators charged in part with determining whether chemical weapons had been used on Aug. 21, AP reported. The U.N. team's initial findings might be issued later this week, French President Francois Hollande said in earlier comments reported by Reuters on Saturday.

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